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2011-11-09

Bank Transfer Day: Kristen Christian on How She Inspired Mass Exodus from Big Banks to Credit Unions

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Protests were held across the country Saturday to mark Bank Transfer Day, a campaign to move accounts from big banks into community banks or credit unions. Credit unions attracted more than 40,000 new account holders, reporting about $80 million in new savings, or an average of about $2,000 per new account holder. The campaign was organized by Kristen Christian when she learned that Bank of America planned to charge her a $5 monthly debit card fee. Her Facebook post urging friends to abandon big banks unwittingly blossomed into a national campaign. Although the campaign was neither inspired by nor organized by the cyber-activist group Anonymous or the Occupy Wall Street movement, it did benefit from their support. "The message from Bank Transfer Day was not the fee itself, but actually the principle behind it, because, at least with Bank of America, the fee only applied to account holders with less than $20,000 in combined accounts. So, based on principle, I couldn’t support a business that would directly target the impoverished and working class," Christian says. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Protests were held across the country Saturday to mark Bank Transfer Day, a campaign to move accounts from big banks into community banks or credit unions. Credit unions attracted more than 40,000 new account holders, reporting about $80 million in new savings, or an average of about $2,000 per new account holder.

The campaign was organized by Kristen Christian when she learned that Bank of America planned to charge her a $5 monthly debit card fee. Christian’s Facebook post, urging friends to abandon big banks, unwittingly blossomed into a national campaign. More than 75,000 people pledged to participate in Bank Transfer Day.

Although the campaign was neither inspired by nor organized by the cyber-activist group Anonymous or the Occupy Wall Street movement, it did benefit from their support. In this ad, Anonymous explained how to participate in Bank Transfer Day.

ANONYMOUS AD: If the 99 percent removes our funds from the major banking institutions to nonprofit credit unions on or by the 5th of November, we will send a clear message to the 1 percent that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices. One, open an account with a credit union. Two, transfer your funds to the new account on or before 11/05. Three, follow your bank’s procedures to close your account. To find a credit union near you, click here. For more information, visit the official Facebook page.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, after Bank Transfer Day, local news outlets around the country reported that fed-up customers acted on their promise to take their business away from big banks, sometimes in conjunction with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Philadelphia Inquirer told the story of a couple inspired by the protests who switched from Bank of America to a community bank, and news channel KGW out of Portland, Oregon, also interviewed fed-up customers who moved their money from big banks. The Denver Post said more than a thousand protesters marched from bank to bank and urged customers there to close their accounts, while the Colorado Independent reported that local credit unions have acquired $100 million in new deposits within the past month.

For more, we go to L.A., to Los Angeles, to Kristen Christian, who organized Bank Transfer Day. And we’re also joined here in New York by John Bonifaz, a constitutional attorney and co-founder and director of Free Speech for People.

Kristen and John, welcome. Kristen, you started this on your Facebook page with a picture of Guy Fawkes. Why Guy Fawkes?

KRISTEN CHRISTIAN: Well, I chose the imagery because it personally inspired me. It reminded me of a sense of rebellion. But definitely, I’ve always been a pacifist myself; I’ve never been one to cause disruption. And the American flag reminded me of the freedoms that we are entitled to because of the brave men and women who fight for us, one of them being, some 30 years ago, my grandfather.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was...? Your grandfather was...?

KRISTEN CHRISTIAN: My grandfather was in the United States Air Force for approximately 25 years of his life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it was Guy Fawkes Day Saturday, Bank Transfer Day. And you sent around what? Tell us what you did to get Bank Transfer Day going.

KRISTEN CHRISTIAN: Actually, I created a Facebook event and sent out invitations to 500 of my approximately 800 Facebook friends and urged them to explore their options with, preferably, local credit unions, but if one was not available in their area, then a local bank. From there, the event just snowballed with, at the end, before close of November 5th, we had 85,000 supporters. CUNA reported that 650,000 new credit union members joined before November 5th, the deadline goal of Bank Transfer Day, and another 40,000 on Bank Transfer Day, meaning nearly 700,000 consumers shifted funds from corporate, for-profit banking institutions to local not-for-profit credit unions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Kristen, explain what the relationship is between Bank Transfer Day and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

KRISTEN CHRISTIAN: There actually is no relationship between Bank Transfer Day and the Occupy Wall Street movement, short of that Occupy Wall Street did adopt the directive of Bank Transfer Day to pull funds from banks. By most reports and most information I saw, unfortunately, the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t offer their supporters a step to take from there, meaning what to do with their money once they pulled it from the for-profit banking institution. So, I definitely did appreciate the support of Occupy Wall Street in spreading the word, but I have never participated in any of the Occupy protests across the country, and nor have I organized any of those protests.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen, would you say that this move of Bank Transfer Day and the Occupy movements have also led to the defeat of Bank of America and other banks, pulling back their charges on bank cards, the $5 fee, which happened right before Bank Transfer Day, the announcement, in the last weeks?

KRISTEN CHRISTIAN: Yes, I definitely think that a lot of consumer discontentment played a role in the withdrawal of that new policy. I think it further illustrates, though, how out of touch the executives of the large banks can be, that, at least with Bank Transfer Day, which is the movement that CUNA directly credits for inspiring so many people to make the shift, it does illustrate that these banking institution executives are out of touch, because the message from Bank Transfer Day was not the fee itself, but actually the principle behind it, because, at least with Bank of America, the fee only applied to account holders with less than $20,000 in combined accounts. So, based on principle, I couldn’t support a business that would directly target the impoverished and working class.

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