If money talks, how loudly does $4.5 billion speak? That's the amount added in deposits at the nation's credit unions since Sept. 29, estimates the Credit Union National Association. The organization says at least 650,000 people have opened new accounts, bringing those billions of dollars with them.
That figure doesn't even include the thousands of dollars more brought by Frank Sheldon, 63, who runs a photography studio in Seattle. He closed two accounts at Chase and moved to Boeing Employees Credit Union, now BECU -- open to everyone, not just Boeing staff -- in early September.
Sheldon's bank transfer journey actually started in 2008, when his original financial institution, Washington Mutual, was sold to J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM). After the sale, he saw his credit lines cut, which caused his credit score to dip because it gave him a higher debt-to-credit ratio. Then came the fees. His previously fee-free joint checking account and business account picked up $10 a month and $15 a month fees, respectively.
So starting in April, he began the process to transfer both accounts -- with thousands of dollars in each, he says -- to the credit union.
"Why should we reward these banks with our business?" says Sheldon.
A Response to Resentment
He is clearly not alone. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Americans are planning to march, protest or move their money as part of what is being called Bank Transfer Day, a grassroots idea born from a Facebook page that has gained steam with the help of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Claes Bell, a banking reporter with BankRate.com, says the flurry of activism is a response to ongoing resentment over bank bailouts along with new frugality as the economy -- and wages -- continue to sputter.
At least 200 protests are scheduled for Saturday at various big bank locations around the country, says activist organization MoveOn.org. More than 160,000 people have signaled their intention to pull their money out of Bank of America (BAC), Chase or Citibank (C) on its "Move Your Money" website.
Various Occupy movements are also planning marches in support of the Bank Transfer Day movement. The Internet continues to buzz with anti-big bank sentiment under the #louderthanwords hashtag on Twitter.
"I think the thing that is clear is that people are fed up with being ripped off," says Daniel Mintz, campaign director for MoveOn.org.
A Drop in the Big Bank Bucket
A recent poll by Harris Interactive of 2,463 adults showed that only 29% of Bank of America customers said they were likely to continue using it as their primary bank in the near future; the number dropped to 21% for Chase customers and 22% for Wells Fargo and Wachovia (WFC) customers.
But some of the biggest banks don't seem overly concerned, saying they're still committed to customer service. While $4.5 billion is a significant number for credit unions, it represents a small portion of deposits for the 10 largest banks, each of which has more than $100 billion in assets.
Chase declined to comment. A spokesperson for Citibank said its branches are open on Saturday. Wells Fargo also said it is business as usual on Saturday, with regular staffing and hours.
Bank of America, and several other banks, retreated this week from implementing new fees for debit cards, although analysts say the bank is likely to find other fees to charge that will provide it with equivalent revenue.
By coincidence, the Nov. 5 timing of the protest falls on a day with some political resonance for protest. In England, it's Guy Fawkes Day, when bonfires are burned to remember the eponymous anti-establishment figure who attempted to blow up the House of Lords four centuries ago.
In Seattle, Sheldon says his move to a credit union started long before the current zeitgeist, but he is happy to see more people following his footsteps.
"There is just a different kind of vibe [at the credit union]," he says.
Catherine New can be reached at email@example.com.
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