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More than 47,000 Texans join credit unions for Bank Transfer Day

OccupyAustin_360_2676.jpg
OccupyAustin_360_2676.jpg

(Mary Tuma/Texas Inependent)

Over the weekend, members of the Occupy Texas movement in cities like Houston and Austin marched to their banks, closed their accounts and put their money in credit unions, joining demonstrators across the nation on Bank Transfer Day.

In protest of rising bank fees, hidden charges and profit-driven business motives, occupiers are making a collective effort to transfer their money into what they see are more ethical and trustworthy institutions.

About 47,000 Texans have joined credit unions in the past month, moving some $326 million by November 2 – four times the usual growth rate, reports the Texas Credit Union League. And as our sister site the Colorado Independent reported, 650,000 people across the nation have opened accounts in the same period. Post-Bank Transfer Day, that number is edging closer to a million customers.

Credit Unions in Texas are seeing a surge in new accounts. First Community Credit Union in Houston reported a 43 percent increase. Dave Cortez with the Occupy Austin’s Bank Action Team told local news station YNN that $400,000 has been moved from national banks into credit unions since their protest began. To prepare for the spike in new accounts, credit unions have been stepping up their employee numbers, business hours and customer incentives.

Velocity Credit Union launched a targeted ad campaign enticing Occupy Wall Street supporters to make the switch. “You don’t have to Occupy Wall Street to send a message to the banks,” the commercial reads. “Just stop giving them your money.”

And according to a Harris Interactive poll released before the nationwide divestment event, those customers will likely stay put. It found that more than 70 percent of credit union users were “highly satisfied,” while 42 percent of Bank of America clients and 30 percent of JPMorgan and Wells Fargo clients answered said experience with their banks is “fair” or “poor.”

“It’s been the best kept secret for a long time,” said Winter Prosapio of the Texas Credit Union League. “Study after study over the last decade have shown credit unions are the best option — I’m really glad the word is finally out.”

The shift to credit unions — non-profit, member-owned collectives run by an all-volunteer board, that reinvest profits back into the community — fits with the broader messages of the Occupy movement, but was also sparked by dissatisfaction with new bank policies like ATM fees and, most recently, Bank of America’s since-abandoned proposal to charge a $5 monthly debit card fee.

Prosapio said credit unions have a history of helping customers understand how their finances work, rather than drowning clients in fine print. She says TCUL has even backed and supported legislation in Texas dealing with the promotion of financial literacy.

“Credit unions started from the concern of high interest rates and the tradition of believing there should be economic democracy and equal access for everyone,” said Prosapio. “Their foundation is based on helping people receive financial education. We don’t want to overdraft you, we don’t want you living paycheck to paycheck, we want you to know how manage your financial future.”

While Occupy Wall Street members have been instrumental in propelling Bank Transfer Day into the national limelight, the event’s creator specifies the idea was “neither inspired by, derived from nor organized by Anonymous or the Occupy Wall Street movement,” and that it, “does not endorse any activities conducted by Anonymous or Occupy Wall Street.”

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