When I moved to Portland in 2003 to begin college, I signed up for an account with Bank of America. Both my parents had used BofA, and I knew that I’d have access to a network of ATM’s back in Phoenix and in Portland. It was a great national option, I liked the colors and the logo, so I signed up without much consideration.
In nine years, I haven’t really had an issue with Bank of America. I kept a nice buffer of funds in my checking account, I’ve opened a couple of new credit cards, and even found a way to make miles with my purchases through the use of the Alaska Airlines card. I didn’t have to take out any major loans, I haven’t bought a home, mortgages haven’t even ended my frame of mind. I dealt only with the tellers when I dealt with anyone at all–stopping by the bank was pleasant but neutral.
Last year, I went to see Inside Job at the Laurelhurst and came out fuming. I had so much anger and nowhere to place it. Wall Street, academic intellectual in economists, Obama administrators, “the system.” I could do little with a vote in the next election cycle, but I hadn’t even been convinced that “our guys” were better than “their guys,” and I couldn’t call myself optimistic for change or for the best realization of the democratic process.
A year later, the Occupy movement started blowing up all over the country. My friend Joe, in particular, tweeted and shared articles of greed: descriptions of excessive spending, accounts of Bank of America’s callous disregard for the homeowners who felt financial strain after the bank’s approval of incomprehensible loans. I read Krugman. And read Krugman. And read more Krugman. Credit unions became a major topic of conversation around me. Friends and I talked about ways to make a small difference. I decided to Move My Money.
About a week ago, I walked into Bank of America and told them I’d like to close my account. I was dreading the response I’d get. Would I have to launch into a diatribe about the evils of big banks and the inequity of the Wall Street bailout? Would I have to tell them that I was one of the 99% (they’d surely know that by looking at the balance in my checking account), or could I drop Jon Stewart’s name, get an angry glare but an accepting nod and the release of my finds in cold, deafening silence?
The BofA people were great. They were friendly and warm. They helped me close out my account and cancel credit cards. They put me on the phone to corporate to make things final. They complimented my hat. I walked out of the bank with a check, leaving behind only a couple hundred bucks for other charges to clear. It was easy.
The Advantis people were better. They made small talk, they welcomed me to the credit union. They were honest and forthcoming. They told me all about what I could do with them and why this was the right way for me to manage my money. I felt like I was taking ownership of something important to me–a small step in the direction that I believe in. I sensed support from the people around me. The woman that helped me open my new Fusion Checking account told me that another guy had “taken the day off” to open a new account, just like me. “It only takes a half hour,” she said. “But I guess a day off is nice no matter what.” Easy.
The next morning, I woke to an email from Bank of America. I had overdrawn my (nearly) closed account by purchasing a GRE test reservation. “One last way for them to fuck me,” I thought, imagining impending overdraft fees. I’d never be free of the iron chain of the corporation. Remarkably, I got a phone call from a woman at the BofA that afternoon, telling me that she’d remembered me from the day before, and that I could come and make a deposit that afternoon in order to avoid fees. Wonderful. Surprising. Not what you expect from BofA. So, I Moved My Money Back.
No, I’m just kidding. I kept it with Advantis. But in this quick barrage of events, I realized that this “evil company” is still filled with a bunch of regular people–people who want to help one another; people with families and hobbies and interests of their own. The issue isn’t with the workers at the individual branches–those are just the people trying to do their jobs so they can save their own money and get their own loans for their cars and mortgages. We can tell the big banks that we disagree with their politics–that we want to strip them of their political and financial power–without giving the middle finger to the people that work for them. There is polarization all around us, but there are good people too. We should create a culture that rewards those people by giving them a say in their lending institutions and offering them the opportunity to create the best life for themselves. We can’t do that by helping the 1%.
When I went into Advantis to make a deposit this week, two of the tellers recognized me and called me by name. That has never happened with Bank of America. I’m already feeling the community. It’s good to be a part of a Credit Union. Make a statement, Move Your Money. You’ve got one day.