Can Credit Unions Make a Success of Bank Transfer Day?


After becoming increasingly frustrated with her bank’s poor service and expanding array of nickel-and-diming fees, 27-year-old Los Angeles gallery owner Kristen Christian went where many of her generation go when upset: Facebook. On Oct. 4, she created a Facebook event called “Bank Transfer Day,” which urged participants to move their money from banks to credit unions on Nov. 5, and sent out invitations to about 500 people.

The event itself bore the hallmarks of something conceived of on the fly rather than the result of careful planning. The designated date, it turned out, is a Saturday, when many banks are closed and have limited hours, and the call was changed from withdrawing money on that date to withdrawing money by the fifth. Additionally, despite Christian’s public claims that the event was independent of the Occupy movement, its location was listed as “Occupy Wall Street” for the first several days that reference was removed.

However, such minor details seemed irrelevant to the flood of people who began RSVP’ing and spreading invitations in the days after Christian first posted the page. Three days into its existence, almost 9,000 people had indicated their intention to attend, and as of Oct. 31, that number had ballooned to about 68,000. Obviously, the ideas behind Bank Transfer Day have struck a nerve, but why did it become so popular and in this particular form?

A confluence of trends

First, and most obvious, has been the spread of the Occupy movement throughout the country. While protesters in Liberty Plaza can march right over to the actual Wall Street to express their disapproval, supporters of the Occupy movement in the rest of the country don’t have such obviously symbolic targets.

Virtually everyone does, however, have a bank account, and moving one’s money from a “Wall Street” bank to a local, cooperatively owned credit union is a fairly simple step that sympathizers who live far from Lower Manhattan can take. As such, despite Christian’s attempts to put a bit of distance between the event and the growing Occupy movement, the networks that have formed since Occupy Wall Street began have been vital to spreading the Bank Transfer Day’s message.

Additionally, Bank Transfer Day is built upon a protest model that has been developing and evolving since the bailouts. Shortly after the Troubled Asset Relief Program was passed, there were a few scattered pro-credit-union protests of bailed-out banks, but the idea of politicizing the choice of financial institution picked up steam when The Huffington Post wrote about the “Move Your Money Project” in late 2009.

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