Angry Customers Hold “Bank Transfer Day”

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s moving day for bank customers.

A grassroots movement that sprang to life last month is urging bank customers to close their accounts in favor of credit unions by Saturday.

The spirit behind “Bank Transfer Day” caught fire with the Occupy Wall Street protests around the country and had more than 79,000 supporters on its Facebook page as of Friday. The movement has already helped beat back Bank of America’s plan to start charging a $5 debit card fee.

It’s not clear to what extent the banking industry’s about-face on debit card fees will extinguish the anger driving the movement. But many supporters say their actions are about far more than any single complaint.

“It’s too little, too late,” said Kristen Christian, the 27-year-old Los Angeles small business owner who started “Bank Transfer Day.” She already opened accounts at two credit unions in preparation for cutting ties with Bank of America this weekend.

“Consumers are waking up and seeing that they have options,” she said.

Even with its public support, however, it’s not likely that any account closings that take place on Saturday will make a big dent with industry titans such as Chase, which is the largest bank in the country with some 26.5 million checking accounts.

But the call to action shows just how incensed consumers were at the prospect of a debit card fee at a time of so much economic uncertainty. Even those who were appeased by the industry’s reversal may have tapped into a new sense of empowerment.

That’s the case for Dan Blakemore, a Bank of America customer for the past 10 years. He said he no longer plans to close his checking account now that the debit fee has been scrapped. But he’ll be on the lookout for any other changes that might hit his wallet.

“I’m pretty confident they’re going to find some way to get that extra money,” said Blakemore, a 28-year-old who works for a nonprofit fundraiser in New York City. “I’ll just have to see if it offends my sensibility enough to close the account.”

Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. are keeping mum on whether they’ve seen an uptick in account closures in recent weeks. But credit unions and small community banks have been basking in the spotlight and issuing press releases highlighting what they say are superior interest rates and more intimate service, along with tips on how consumers can transfer accounts. They haven’t been shy about the surge in new business they’re enjoying either.

Navy Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in the country, says new account openings in September and October were up 38 percent from a year ago. National Capital Bank, a two-branch community bank in Washington, D.C., says the vast majority of its new account openings in recent weeks have been by fed up Bank of America customers.

“The debit fee was definitely a driver,” said Noah Wilcox, president of Grand Rapids State Bank in Minnesota, which is also enjoying a lift in account openings.

Because credit unions and community banks vary so greatly in size, however, it’s hard to gauge the total scope of the defections they’re reporting. For example, the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union in New York City says it’s enjoying more than 55 new account openings a week. That’s a big jump from its average of about 10 new accounts per week, but insignificant when weighed against the portfolios of the nation’s largest banks.

Big banks have also learned that customer grumblings don’t always translate into action. That’s particularly true for those who have multiple accounts, direct deposit and automatic bill pay; many decide that switching just isn’t worth the hassle.

“People will do a lot of complaining before they actually uproot and move,” notes Mark Schwanhausser, a banking analyst with Javelin Strategy & Research.

The recent firestorm over debit card fees was “in a class of its own” because customers saw it as a charge for accessing their own money, he said.

The timing of Bank of America’s fee announcement was unfortunate on multiple levels as well. In addition to the anxiety many are feeling amid high unemployment and stagnant wages, the news broke just as the Occupy Wall Street protests were capturing the national spotlight.

And big banks have been a key target for Occupy Wall Street, which has tapped into the lingering resentment many harbor over the role of banks in the financial meltdown of 2008.

Last month, two dozen Occupy Wall Street protestors were arrested when they entered a Citibank branch in New York City and refused to leave. Protestors have also banged drums and demonstrated outside bank branches in other cities; PNC Bank twice closed branches in downtown Pittsburgh last week after protestors entered.

But those are the extremes. Schwanhausser of Javelin said many customers will likely be placated by the industry’s white flag on debit card fees.

“People are people going to look at that Nov. 5 date and say ‘We made our point’,” Schwanhausser said

The banking industry may feel the same way; representatives for Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo indicate they haven’t done anything to prepare branch employees for a surge in account closings this weekend. Then again, many of the closures may have already taken place.

Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old nanny in Washington, D.C., who started an online petition urging Bank of America to drop its debit card fee, says the bank’s about-face won’t win her back.

“The damage is done,” said Katchpole, who has since joined a credit union in Washington, D.C.


Candice Choi can be reached at

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

  • A

    and THAT’s how you fight the banking world. Not pitching tents on Wall Street

  • Jennifer Ott

    Don’t underestimate pitiching tents at Wall Street – It made a big impact that sparked protests world wide.

    • Tsal

      You are of course very right. Switch day had no impact at all.

  • Mark

    I have been a Bank of America customer for many years. I have never felt I had been treated unfairly. I use direct deposit, bill pay, a debit card and 2 credit cards from B of A. I understand there is a cost for doing business. I don’t bounce checks or overdraw on my accounts. I don’t get behind on my card payments. And so I don’t have extra fees. I don’t keep a high enough balance to worry about what kind of interest I could earn elsewhere. I use bill pay on all of my bills. The few times there has been a delivery problem wit a bill it has never been the banks fault, yet they were on the phone with me and contacted the payee right then and straightened things out. I have never had problems reaching someone for help when I need it. I am a completely satisfied customer, (and neither I or anyone in my family work for the bank). To me they provide a very good service at a fair price.

    • Nab71

      Marks right. And its not just with BOA. Banks are looking for new fees because they have been limited in what they can collect. As Mark says he doesn’t have fees because he doesn’t bounce checks or overdraw and my guess is he pays his credit card balance in full. Yet the people who do not manage their money well pressure Congress to lessen the fees for their using the banks money. Which means the banks will try to shift the burden to those that handle it well. But that’s OK, after all they must be the 1 %. Surprise, people without much money can manage their money well.. When people want something for nothing someone else pays.

    • Cleary Squared

      I agree with Mark, Tsal and Nab71.

      The commercial banks want customers who can either meet their bank requirements or have the fees affect them little or not at all. And you need not be a 1%er to make those requirements – if you’re wise with your money, then you’ll have no problem.

      Like Mark and Tsal, I’ve had very few problem with BofA the six years I’ve been with them. The problems I did have were resolved quickly and fairly.

      The thing to take away from this is that if you don’t do your research on the banks themselves, you will pay for it later – and not just with higher fees. If your wonderful local bank/credit union you joined to gets taken over, with perks and great customer service evaporating and the fees ratcheted up quickly, or even worse, hackers knowing how weak the security is at your bank to siphon off your accounts without even knowing, then that whole “move your money” effort will be for naught.

    • Julie the Jarhead

      I used to use my debit card for purchases and withdrawals.

      The only time I’ve had an issue with my bank (Citizens) was when I was charged (by Citizens) $3 for using another bank’s ATM. Never saw the notice of a change in fees buried on the third page of my statement.

      I stopped using my debit card for anything except withdrawals. I use my credit card (with rewards) for all my purchases now.

      That’s how you do it. Yes, they do notice. It’s in B&W.

    • Joe

      If you only knew Mark, if you only knew. Another clueless consumer big business loves to have!

      • Tsal

        Joe mark is right. I pay no fees with BofA and I do know. You do not. I have the best security. Would I switch to a community bank. If they offered same security maybe. But they do not and are faced with larger challenges to meet regulations. And there is a larger change they will acquire or be acquired Credit unions do not pay taxes. YET. They will since they are now operating as banks. Fees will be levied with them to meet the taxes and regs. Check it out and then tell mark he’s wrong

  • fireman mark

    People should do business with their local community banks.I do mine with Stoneham Cooperative Bank (StonehamBank) and have had an excellent relationship with them for years.Give the big banks the heave-ho and go local.The same applies with other types of consumer spending.Patronize your local mom and pop stores.They are your friends,neighbors and townspeople.Put big business on notice!!

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