Why I Left My Bank
#remember X 2
#BankTransferDay #treason #plot
#BankTransferDay is Upon Us
It probably wouldn’t surprise you if I told you I was participating in Bank Transfer Day, the Occupy-inspired day of protest where people are encouraged to move their deposits into credit unions and out of the major banks. You might be surprised when I tell you it was primarily a personal budget decision between my partner and I, and not one made from idealism or outrage. I even did it early, to avoid any trouble with my November rent check.
It isn’t often that the prudent aligns with the ideal.
I had discussed the idea with Jenny, albeit briefly, just a few weeks prior. It was she who brought it up, which surprised me. I am the more, shall we say, ‘cavalier’ with finances, as I often prioritize the moment over the big picture. Either way, it was interesting that she mentioned it, and it put me into a contrary mindset when considering the idea.
Should we move our money? Is it really better for us to move out of this major bank, which is so omnipresent and theoretically convenient, and don’t I benefit somehow from being a part of that? Is quasi-political anti-Wall Street sentiment a good thing to account for in financial decisions? Is this an ethical choice, or an economic one? Is it just fashion?
On one hand, I feel like I agree with both the sentiment and method of Bank Transfer Day. It presents a clear way for individuals to take ownership over the fruits of their labor and put it work for their community through non-profit institutions and local savings banks, while simultaneously issuing a meaningful rebuke to bail-out financial institutions: “lend or die.”
On the other, I visit the websites of some of these credit unions, even federal ones, and I’m struck by the archaic nature of their design and the hokieness of their incentives – a chance to win a vacation? What does that have to do with banking?
Then, on October 29th, I received this email:
The aforementioned Important New Information was that unless I had a mortgage with the bank or maintained a balance of about half my annual salary, my account would begin to incur a monthly fee roughly equal to 1% of monthly income to pay for the conveniences of branch banking, ATMs, the website, having my cash available to me, etc. MegaBank is unable to invest my measly deposits at a high enough rate of return to provide me with free banking.
So I left.
They didn’t take it personally. How could they? Banks aren’t people. (right?) Plus, they were essentially requesting that I leave or become a different kind of customer – one who pays for banking in ways other than allowing the bank to earn interest on my deposit. I am not that kind of customer. I can’t afford that sort of thing.
So I took the hint and my money with me.
Fortunately for me, my partner is a member of a federal credit union by way of her very generous, wise, and good looking parents. That credit union is associated with an ATM network that includes a machine in the basement of the building in which I work, which is a huge plus. And the cost of banking is less than what I was offered at the MegaBank.
One Choice Moves a Market
It is a crime, in some places and cases, to instigate a bank run based on false information about that bank’s solvency. It is not, however, illegal to hold boycott a bank or any institution (except the government). But boycotts, like strikes and walkouts, have to fight the strong economic pressures that the working class must deal with daily to support their families. Asking a neighbor to forgo work or assume extra fees, for an agenda that presumes to help relieve those very conditions, is always a tough sell. Such movements need a wave of support and a catalyst of ethical and social importance to do much more than inconvenience middle management and further jeopardize the economic security of workers. (Such actions are in progress, which is a-whole-nuther story.) People must be free to do what is best for them so long as it does not jeopardize the freedom and safety of others and future generations. It is in everyone’s best interest that we choose the most efficient ways of employing our labor, and paying extra fees to purchase a superficial sense of social consciousness is not efficient.
But when a cause is really as simple as spreading awareness about how our money is managed – getting people to look at their bank statements and think about how much finance charges and service fees are taken out of their hard earned money, to consider how much they really need their bank, and how little their bank needs them, and then help them make the split – that is common sense, it’s market-based, and it’ll lead us toward an economy where wealth is the property of individuals, not institutions.
If that ends up affecting the behavior on Wall Street, then so be it.