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November 05, 2011
Populist Outrage Takes on Big Banks
    by Robert Kropp

Today is Bank Transfer Day, and consumers are encouraged to move their accounts from megabanks to credit unions and community development banks.

What do you want your bank to do with your money? is the question that thousands of bank customers are asking themselves today. Today is Bank Transfer Day, and the choice would appear to be stark: either continue to support megabanks whose machinations almost took down the economy and whose executives continue to receive outlandish bonuses; or move deposits to credit unions and community development banks, whose investments support housing and job creation, often in low-income communities where megabank branches are conspicuously absent.

Bank Transfer Day began as a movement on Facebook after Bank of America announced on September 29th that it would charge debit card users five dollars per month for accessing their own money. Since then, at least 650,000 consumers have joined credit unions, according to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).

In all of 2010, by contrast, 600,000 consumers joined credit unions, CUNA reported.

Even BofA seems to have acknowledged that introducing such a policy in the midst of the nationwide Occupy Movement protests amounts to a public relations disaster. The bank recently announced that it had withdrawn its plan to charge for debit card use by its customers.

But BofA's retreat was not enough to stop the widespread protests, and in Oakland this week demonstrators targeted megabanks as part of a city-wide protest. In New York on Friday, the People's Hearing on Goldman Sachs ended in arrests after demonstrators marched on the bank's headquarters.

Bank Transfer Day has attracted considerable media coverage, and Green America has taken the opportunity to link the movement with its Break Up With Your Mega-Bank Campaign, which the nonprofit organization launched back in 2008.

"From Occupy Wall Street to Bank Transfer Day, there is mounting frustration and anger at the big banks that are failing to act in the interests of our communities and our nation as a whole," said Green America Social Investing Director Fran Teplitz. "As a result, more and more consumers are looking for ways to invest their money with institutions that are responsible and promote sustainability."

The toolkit updated by Green America for Bank Transfer Day focuses on the social advantages of community investing, the mission of which can be realized by choosing community development banks or credit unions instead of megabanks. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Green America points out, have the greatest impact in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, and the assets of CDFIs have increased in the last decade from $7.6 billion to $41.7 billion.


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