Credit Union Membership Spikes With "Bank Transfer Day"
Local non-profit credit unions seeing lots of new interest as a result of anti-Wall Street sentiment.
Credit unions are reporting huge bumps in business as people pull their money out of banks and put it into non-profit credit unions. The movement, which grew out of the scathing reaction to Bank of America’s since retracted decision to charge for debit card use, has declared Saturday “Bank Transfer Day.”
The day’s Facebook page, which has over 75,000 “attendees,” says: “If we shift our funds from the for-profit banking institutions in favor of not-for-profit credit unions before this date, we will send a clear message that conscious consumers won't support companies with unethical business practices.
And local credit unions are feeling the love.
“We’ve definitely seen a spike,” said Jennifer Kulkoski, marketing director for First Financial Credit Union in Skokie, which serves people living in a wide swath of the city and northern suburbs.
In a normal month, about 30 new people open up a checking account, she said. In October, 61 did. The credit union’s website and Yelp review page have also seen increased traffic. Most of that activity came in the second half of the month after the backlash against Bank of America started.
First Financial is marking Bank Transfer Day by having an open house with refreshments on Saturday.
“We’re treating it as a general celebration of, ‘Yay, the word is out,’” Kulkoski said.
Credit unions, unlike big banks, are non-profits that are owned by their members and have no stockholders. They offer the same services as banks, including checking and savings accounts, credit cards, loans and trusts.
While Bank Transfer Day’s anti-big finance sentiment echoes that of Occupy Wall Street, the two movements are not officially aligned.
Glenview Credit Union started seeing an increase in members about three years ago when anger at financial institutions due to the mortgage crisis and recession started cementing. It took off like crazy with the Occupy Wall Street movement and Bank Transfer Day announcement, according to Director of Marketing Kathleen Quinn.
“It’s huge for us,” she said.
The credit union, which serves people who live or work in Northfield Township as well as B’nai B’rith members, has seen people from 20 to 75 years old sign up as new members recently. Some say they’re making a political statement, some noted that they wanted to leave Bank of America, and some just want a change, Quinn said.
First Northern Credit Union, with branches across northern Illinois, isn’t settling for just one day of recognition for credit unions. It’s declared all of November “Bank Transfer Month.”
In a riff off of Bank of America’s $5 proposed debit card fee, First Northern will pay $5 a month to new members who open a checking account, get electronic statements and use their debit card at least once a month, explained James Smith, a manager at the Evanston branch, which is open to Evanston residents and people affiliated with Northwestern University as well as several other employers.
Smith’s office saw a jump from an average of 40 new members a month to 70 in October. Many of those were Northwestern undergraduates, a group that has historically not been terribly interested in the credit union because of the school’s close relationship with U.S. Bank, Smith said. But he has signed up a number of students in the last few weeks who dropped their U.S. Bank accounts in favor of the credit union.
The Evanston branch saw the biggest October increase compared to the credit union’s other five branches, Smith said. In addition to the students, he’s seen interest from older people, including retirees.
“People are really feeling like, okay now’s the time” to switch, he said.
(If an act of financial rebellion isn’t enough for you and you prefer to take your protest to the streets, there’s a “Make Wall Street Pay” rally in Oak Park Saturday set to coincide with Bank Transfer Day.)