Monday, October 10, 2011

If I was running OWS (updated)

Not all remedies are political. Citizens of the U.S. also have the power of commerce to make their voices heard.

So if I was running OWS, I'd organize some actions in which people could participate that go beyond occupying public spaces or put all the pressure on politicians to make the changes.

First of all, I'd work with local community banks and credit unions who would like more business and try to make it as easy as possible for people to move their accounts away from the big banks and into some of these alternatives. I'd suggest that not only are many people of all political persuasions pretty sick and tired of what the 5 or 6 major banks have been up to in this country - but those institutions are more interested in where people park their $ than they are in who people vote for. If movement away from them was significant - they'd feel the heat.

I did this years ago with both my personal and business accounts. Its amazing the service you get from these small local institutions where your business really matters to them!

Secondly, something I'd consider is re-financing my mortgage away from the big bank that currently holds it. This one would take some work, but folks who know the industry might work with organizers to identify mortgage companies who would offer alternatives at reasonable rates to those of us who are capable of re-financing. I certainly would rather not be paying interest to the big banks, but I don't know where else to go.

Finally, the idea that would take the most work is to give people alternatives on where to invest their money. I have a small retirement account that is invested with fund managers and have very little to no control over where that money is invested. If a trustworthy group of managers got together to review companies for the kinds of practices that promote both growth and fairness, I'd be seriously tempted to join. I'm not talking about the "social awareness" funds you see these days that simply avoid investments in things like tobacco companies. I'm thinking green energy companies that pay good wages and are fair to their employees.

This kind of thing would definitely take some work. But one of the reasons these banks became "too big to fail" is that too many of us had "skin in the game" with them. If they failed - we did too. If we had opportunities to put our money to work to make some changes, we could free ourselves up from their influence. That's what I call empowerment.

UPDATE: Right after I posted this, I read about Bank Transfer Day. (Facebook page)

Here's what Time says about it.

The growing anger directed at U.S. banks (especially the big ones that took federal bailout funds) over recent fee increases coalesced this weekend into a Facebook-driven campaign that’s urging Americans to close their accounts at large banks and move their money to credit unions by November 5...

“Bank Transfer Day” was started by a 27-year-old Los Angeles art gallery owner named Kristen Christian. Christian says she’s not affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but that many organizers of those demonstrations had reached out to her to express support.

Christian chose November 5 because of its association with 17th-century British folk hero Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the British House of Lords but was captured on that date in 1605.

Way to go Kristen!!!!!!


  1. Interestingly, I'm moving my checking account from Chase to a local Credit Union here in Chicago at the first part of Nov. and having my direct deposits moved there in December. I'm not on Facebook so I didn't see this. It just must be in the air. I only wish I had millions of dollars to move. I'm sure Chase won't mind seeing my pittance leave them.

  2. Sequana - Good for you!

    I have always loved the saying "If everybody does a little, no one has to do a lot."

  3. I have a friend whose husband works for BofA and they are absolutely not worried about people leaving. They know how hard it is to move and how few people will do it. I'd love it if OWS would get behind this action with a vengeance. They won't, but it would still be nice. I figure it will take me two months to move because of direct deposits, but I'm going to get it done before the end of the year. Not much money and I won't be missed, but my local bank invests in local businesses and has access to a network of ATMs that is a reasonable substitute for the reach of BofA.

  4. Tien,

    We have a local bank who's founder set it up so that its owned by a charitable foundation and the employees. Profits are shared between the foundation (to be invested in the community) and employees.

    There are so many wonderful alternatives out there.

    My credit union issues a Visa cash card that I've used as far away as Mexico - no problem.

  5. I'm sort of on the fence about this. When I was unemployed in the fall of 2009, I contacted one of my automatic billers to ask them not to withdraw my usual payment from my account. They did so anyway and overdrew my account. I had no money to replace it. After months of fighting with the biller, they finally returned the money, but by then my account had been closed. In the interim, I was cashing my unemployment checks at Walmart and using money orders to pay my bills.

    The branch manager of my bank apologized, said it was a corporate decision she couldn't change. But she wrote me a letter of recommendation explaining what had happened, so that I could get another account.

    I took the letter to a local credit union, the largest one in my area. I was told, sorry, if you had an account closed by another bank, they couldn't allow me to open one with them.

    It left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, especially because a month later, I was approached by the bank branch in the grocery store where I shop. They were doing a drive to open new accounts. I explained my situation, and was told, "Hey, no problem. We can open your account today."

    That was 18 months ago, and they've been very good to me since then. This is a bank among the top ten US banks, but it hasn't been in the news for any egregious mistreatment of customers.

    Now, I did meet a woman from a different credit union at a community festival this summer, and a month later opened an account with them. But I am hesitant to move all my funds over just yet. This is partly due to my appreciation for my current bank, for giving me a chance when a credit union wouldn't. But it's also due to a fear of depending on one account, and wondering what would happen should I ever lose my job again and have an unauthorized automatic payment overdraw my account. Part of me feels like it's safer to maintain two accounts.

  6. Monala - Your story is a perfect example of what Tien was talking about in terms of what makes this complicated.

    I wouldn't be one that would always suggest a credit union. As I said above, I think there are community banks that are even better in terms of who they are and what services they provide.

    We have a smaller bank in this area that's offering $100 cash to anyone who opens a new account. I would never go with them because the CEO is very politically involved as a right winger. But I'm guessing that they're doing this because they need the business that bad.