There's a bank protest afoot that doesn't involve camping, picketing or being gawked at by the national media. It's called "Bank Transfer Day," and it's a social-media driven movement started by art gallery owner Kristin Christian. It aims to convince bank customers angered by new fees to move their money en masse to small banks or credit unions on Nov. 5.
The movement has largely been orchestrated through Facebook, where the page has nearly 24,000 likes and numerous comments left by supporters and critics alike. Christian herself has been careful to keep the movement nonpartisan and distance it from the Occupy Wall Street protests happening in metro areas all over the country.
Last week Tess Vigeland of American Public Media's excellent Marketplace radio show interviewed Christian:
CHRISTIAN: Well, after 13 years of abuse by Bank of America, everything from severe fees for a severe lack of services to having my funds frozen at any given moment. The final straw came when my former supervisor posted to his Facebook page, as a status, "Bank of America's charging $5."
VIGELAND: And that was the $5 fee for debit cards.
CHRISTIAN: Mmhmm. I don't tend to just believe what I read. So I did call a representative and spoke to them and asked them for the exact details of this new fee structure. And I was very disappointed, to say the least. At that point, I began researching. When I found credit unions, I was floored. Lower rates, any fees to join usually go to charity -- they really do make an effort to reinvest in local communities both through charities and through offering low-interest rate loans to independent citizens and small-to-medium size businesses.
VIGELAND: I know one of the questions that has been asked is whether this is tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
CHRISTIAN: Absolutely in no way. There's been a lot of confusion on that. While I do appreciate the enthusiasm that Occupy Wall Street has put into Bank Transfer Day, I don't personally condone the means of which they approach situations. I don't believe that people should go in large groups to banks to close their accounts, bringing signage and disrespecting the bank employees. Because when you opened your account, I know you didn't have signage and you spoke frankly and respectfully to the employee who assisted you.
I think Christian is right that a good way for bank customers to make their displeasure about new fees heard is through moving their accounts to local institutions, which often offer more competitive pricing and a more personalized approach to client care.
That being said, deciding where to keep your checking account isn't a decision that should be taken lightly, and financial decisions born of emotion rather than cold analysis rarely turn out. It might feel good to tell your bank to take their checking account and shove it, but be sure that short-term satisfaction isn't soured by the realization that you really need some of the services your old bank offered, and your new institution isn't prepared to provide them. Every financial institution has its pluses and minuses, community banks included.
I think consumers would benefit from taking some time to really look at the details of the checking accounts they're considering, including fee schedules, and figure out who can meet their needs at the lowest cost.
That's not an argument for checking account apathy; if you're unhappy with your current arrangement, a checking account change is a good idea. I'm just arguing that objective analysis is better than knee-jerk reaction when it comes to key financial decisions.
What do you think? Is Bank Transfer Day a good idea? Do you plan to switch accounts soon?