Amid the hype and hoopla, the protest marches, and the bank occupations, it seems something interesting happened on Bank Transfer Day: People actually moved their money. The Credit Union National Association, or CUNA, which has been thrust into the unexpected position of suddenly being the cool kid at the party, reported that nearly 700,000 people have become members in the weeks leading up to the event, with 40,000 alone joining a local credit union Saturday. Credit unions recorded $80 million in new savings and made $90 million in new loans to new and existing customers.
Now that we can claim Bank Transfer Day a success, let's take a look at what we learned.
You can opt out of the big bank system
The beauty of Bank Transfer Day was that it was inherently Foolish. Much like we Fools advocate for understanding and building your own portfolio, Bank Transfer Day advocated for understanding and building your own banking. It empowered regular people to take an active role in managing the bigger picture of their money. It was led by the notion that people without million-dollar portfolios could still determine how and by whom their money is being used.
You can do it without living outside in a tent
Bank Transfer Day worked because it appealed to the many people who are not able, interested, or willing to take part in a camp-out protest. While Occupy Wall Street protesters took part in many of the activities on Nov. 5, organizing marches and rallies in several cities, those activities were ancillary. The organizer of Bank Transfer Day made it clear this was a separate movement. Holding banks accountable, while important, was not the primary motivation. Whereas Occupy Wall Street is attempting to reason with a crazy person (large banks), Bank Transfer Day simply ended the conversation.
Opting out of the big bank system may not affect it much (and that's OK)
As I noted on Monday, individual accounts with moderately low balances -- the type that would have been hit hardest under many of the proposed fees -- don't typically generate much revenue for larger banks. CUNA estimates that credit union members save $6.3 billion each year just by doing business with a credit union, an average of just under $70 per member. That won't hit Bank of America (NYS: BAC) too hard -- and in fact, big banks may be just as happy to see those accounts go. But for many of the people who switched to a credit union, the satisfaction that comes with that extra $70 a year may be priceless.
It's not over
The proposed fees that prompted Bank Transfer Day have mostly vanished. B of A has rescinded the $5 monthly debit card fee that prompted the most vitriol, and the other banks fell in line like dominoes. JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) , Wells Fargo (NYS: WFC) , Regions Financial (NYS: RF) , and SunTrust (NYS: STI) have all backed away slowly from recently announced fees and pilot fee programs. But that doesn't mean other fees aren't coming. Other banks, including BB&T and Fifth Third, are looking for additional ways to generate revenue.
Fool reader Travis Tredwell works for a local credit union and shared some advice it gives prospective customers: You should remember that allowing a financial institution to hold your money is a privilege, one that you can take away.
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Did you switch to a credit union? Tell me about it below.
At the time this article was published Molly McCluskey is a big fan of living outside in a tent and has done so on numerous occasions. She does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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