Credit unions gain at banks' expense

Protesters associated with Occupy Wall Street march past a Citibank branch in Manhattan on October 28, 2011 in New York City. Hundreds of protesters delivered 6,000 letters from angry bank customers to the headquarters of Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase during the march.

Kai Ryssdal: Shares of Bank of America tumbled today. Shareholders weren't happy about its plan to issue new stock to bump up capital reserves. A lot of account holders aren't happy with B of A either. Which is -- in part -- why tomorrow has been proclaimed Bank Transfer Day. It was so designated by a Bank of America customer here in Los Angeles angry about the bank's infamous and now-rescinded $5-a-month debit card fee.

The idea is for people to abandon big banks for smaller more local institutions. And as a result credit unions, those sleepy not-for-profit cooperatives, are flush with $4.5 billion in new deposits.

Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith has more on the money migration.


Stacey Vanek-Smith: The debit card fee Bank of America and other big banks rolled out ignited an uproar.

Melissa Wilson: The $5 debit card use fee was sort of my last straw.

Thirty-three-year-old business-analyst Melissa Wilson is a Bank of America customer. Well, she was. The debit card fee made her so angry she left B of A -- and even when the bank nixed the fee, she didn't look back.

Wilson: It's just too little too late. The fact they even tried to do it was enough for me.

Between debit fees and Occupy Wall Street, Community banks and credit unions smell opportunity.

Advertisement: We'll let the big banks take care of Wall Street. We'll be right here taking care of main street. Own your money, join a credit union.

Credit unions are extending hours and creating "switch kits" -- step-by-step guides to leaving your bank. Bill Cheney is president of the Credit Union National Association.

Bill Cheney: We've heard from credit unions all across the country that they've seen an increase in business. We've heard anywhere from double their normal account value to five times as much.

Cheney's organization reports that since Bank of America unveiled its debit card fee, 650,000 people have joined credit unions -- that's more new accounts in six weeks than credit unions registered all of last year.

Taylor Overstreet: Among my group of friends, people are leaving in droves and joining credit unions.

That's 29-year-old Taylor Overstreet from Austin, Texas. This week, she moved her money from Chase Bank to a local credit union. She wasn't unhappy with Chase, but she wanted to join the movement against big banks.

Overstreet: Friends on Facebook and Twitter talking about switching. I had visited the Occupy Austin website and I think it was bank action day. So, I guess you could say it was effective marketing.

The recent defections to credit unions aren't enough to impact the big guys right now, says analyst Ron Shevlin with the Aite Group. Those banks have millions of accounts and many of the people leaving are young and not the most lucrative customers. Still, Shevlin says, the big banks should be worried.

Ron Shevlin: The impact of Bank Transfer Day shouldn't be thought of in a single day perspective. The bigger impact is 10 to 15 years out.

When those former customers are in their earning prime and banking elsewhere. Not that switching is trouble-free. When she moved her money out of Bank of America, Melissa Wilson forgot to cancel the automatic transfer she'd set up between her checking and savings accounts.

Wilson: It charged me an overdraft fee! For trying to transfer money that wasn't there from one account to another!

Wilson has paid more than $500 in fees to Bank of America this year and says she didn't have the energy to fight the last one. So, she surrendered another $10.

In New York, I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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