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A Mass Exodus from Big Banks is Organizing Online

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, November 2 2011

Over 35,000 people have indicated support on Facebook for a mass Nov. 5 exodus of personal bank accounts from big banks and into credit unions, called "Bank Transfer Day" — one of several online groups with the same basic message, popularized by Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street and others, and just the latest in a series of ground-up actions protesting the practices of big banks.

These online efforts trace their origin back to news from September, in response to new provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law that would limit the amounts that banks could charge merchants for the use of debit cards. News broke at the time that banks would seek instead to pass the fees along to customers in the form of monthly charges for the use of the cards. As anger at a new fee during tough economic times met the current direct-action national zeitgeist, fueled by Occupy Wall Street, initiatives began to spring up online.

The "Bank Transfer Day" Facebook page belongs to an L.A. gallery owner named Kristen Christian, but the idea might actually be the brainchild of Arianna Huffington, who floated the idea in 2009 as a response to financial institutions not lending much of the money they received from the federal bank bailout. That call to action didn't make a lasting splash at the time, but has found new life.

From Santa Cruz to New Mexico to Wisconsin, credit unions are reporting an uptick in new accounts. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, on the occasion of Bank of America's announcement yesterday that it would not impose a planned $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases, said that over 51,000 have pledged through their platform to move their money from big banks, including 21,500 from Bank of America. PCCC co-founder Adam Green also wrote in an email that the wired progressive group plans to release an online tool, "Banxodus," that will help people find "good-guy" banks near them.

Yesterday was a big day for online organizing against big-bank behavior. Also on occasion of the Bank of America announcement, Change.org released an announcement pointing to a 300,000-signatory petition hosted on their online petitions platform.

"Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will drop its $5 debit card fee after more than 300,000 people from all 50 states joined a viral campaign on Change.org started by 22-year-old Bank of America customer Molly Katchpole," Change.org proclaimed in a press release sent yesterday.

Katchpole is enjoying national media attention, but her online petition also came amid a nationwide upheaval against the current structure of the financial services industry — and with droves of people actually taking their money away from Bank of America.

Bank of America officials said in a statement that customer input was the reason they canceled their plans. Decisions by JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo to walk back their own debit card fees came last week.

"We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee," David Darnell, Bank of America's co-chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Our customers' voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so."

The fee reversal may have come too late for Bank of America. Local newspapers across the country are full of stories like this one, from the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette:

For many months, Sean J. McLoughlin considered leaving Bank of America and switching to a bank that didn't charge him fees just for having checking accounts.

When Bank of America said in September it would charge customers $5 a month for using debit cards, his decision to leave the big bank became easier.

“I said ‘Forget it, I'm done,' ” he said.