Sasha Hood is moving her money from Wells Fargo into a Berkeley credit union.

Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, November 4, 2011

Ken Wilkins has been a Citibank customer for more than 20 years, but on Thursday he was at Berkeley’s Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union opening new checking and savings accounts in preparation for transferring all of his and his wife’s funds.

“Banks should serve the people, not the other way around,” said Wilkins, a retired public health worker. “They don’t care about smaller people like us.”

Wilkins is among thousands of people whose frustration with their banks has spurred them to take their money elsewhere in recent weeks. Tapping into a groundswell of resentment over everything from rising fees to mounting foreclosures, populist movements are urging account holders nationwide to switch their money into credit unions or community banks.

Bank Transfer Day, the brainchild of Los Angeles gallery owner Kristen Christian, is scheduled for Saturday. Christian, annoyed by escalating fees, got the idea in early October and shared it with 500 Facebook friends. It spread like wildfire through social media, and more than 75,000 people have pledged to shift funds from for-profit banks to nonprofit credit unions.

“I believe that the world is witnessing a consumer awakening,” Christian said in an e-mail. “Businesses will have to completely rework their structures and practices in order to receive continued support from consumers.”
Aligned goals

The divestment campaigns have hit a nerve in the wake of the Occupy movement’s focus on economic inequality. Although Christian said that her campaign is separate from Occupy, many see them as aligned. For some, it’s a logical next step from occupying Wall Street to shunning Wall Street.

“Several people at the (Oakland general strike) march yesterday said, ‘Are you moving your money?’ ” said Sasha Hood, a midwifery student who was filling out paperwork for an account at the Berkeley credit union. She plans to transfer her money from Wells Fargo.

“It’s a good way to be part of this movement and to show large institutions we won’t support them anymore,” Hood said. “They support the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”

Liberal activist group MoveOn has gotten involved, calling for people to engage in “Make Wall Street Pay” actions on Saturday by rallying outside big banks and closing accounts.

Many people have already acted. Some 650,000 customers have opened credit union accounts and deposited about $4.5 billion since Bank of America announced its now-canceled $5 monthly debit card fee in late September, according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association released Thursday.

Meanwhile, a consortium of religious congregations, unions and community organizations is spearheading the Move Our Money campaign, which aims to transfer $1 billion from larger banks to community banks and credit unions. The group also wants to get cities and counties to pass socially responsible investing policies that would lead to divesting funds.

“This is a way for people to take power into their own hands,” said Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, an affiliation of 29 congregations in the county comprising 30,000 families.

“We believe that large banks are responsible for much of the crisis we are in,” said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, the union representing 2,600 teachers, librarians, counselors and others. As part of Move Our Money, it is in the process of moving about half a million dollars out of Wells Fargo and into Union Bank, an institution that primarily works with unions, she said. Big banks “were bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars, while schools and social services are made to suffer the consequences,” she said.

Some targets of the campaign said they are responsive to consumer needs.

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