Tess Vigeland: We’ve been talking for a few weeks now about the customer anger over new bank fees.
In fact, we recently coached you through how to move your money if that’s what you decide to do. Well banks certainly are not having a good time these days. The Occupy Wall Street protests are still going strong. And then there’s the social media-inspired event Bank Transfer Day. The goal of the event: To make Nov. 5 a day where everyone moves their money from a big bank to a smaller institution or credit union. While the aims are pretty high, it was started by a very unlikely person: 27-year-old art gallery owner Kristen Christian.
And I met with her at a quaint little coffee shop near our Los Angeles studio. Kristen, thanks for meeting us today.
Kristen Christian: Thank you.
Vigeland: Before we start, we were hoping originally to talk to you at your place of work. But tell us why you’ve decided that that’s not a good idea at this point.
Christian: The movement has received a very significant response. Unfortunately, there are several websites that I cannot take down the address to my business and we have had a couple of opponents who responded very strongly. And for my own personal safety, it’d be better to not be at that location.
Vigeland: What were they opposing?
Christian: I think the general fear is people will tuck their money under their mattress. I’m encouraging a shift from a corporate level to a local level.
Vigeland: Well take us back a couple of weeks ago to when you created an event on Facebook and basically that was then publicized to your Facebook friends. What happened from there?
Christian: Well, I created the event outline to 500 of my friends, why I was making the switch. The event currently has nearly 60,000 followers and we’ve been growing by 5,000 to 10,000 a day.
Vigeland: What sparked this for you?
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.
Vigeland: How confident are you that Bank Transfer Day will actually result in action?
Christian: There is a likelihood that not every person who RSVPs will in fact move their money. In fact, I believe personally that many of the… Yes, RSVPs are people who are already with credit unions, but at the end of the day, I started this event to educate my close circle of friends. So I definitely believe any dollar transferred from the corporate level to the local level has the opportunity to make a significant, positive impact.
Vigeland: What will you be doing on Nov. 5?
Christian: I’ve already established my credit union accounts. I actually will be moving my funds on Nov. 4. Nov. 5 I just think is a really good goal deadline. It’s definitely not intended to be a run on banks of hundreds of people storming in to close accounts and to get their funds.
Vigeland: Well Kristen, thank you so much for speaking with us and good luck on Nov. 5
Christian: Thank you.
Vigeland: We wanted to get the banking industry’s take on all this, so we called up Scott Talbott of the Financial Services Roundtable. He told us all these fees were predicted by the industry after the Card Act was passed last year. And he said if you are unhappy with fees being levied on your accounts, go ahead — look for another bank.
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