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News / Business

Big bank defectors trickle into credit unions

By Paris Achen
Published: November 4, 2011, 5:00pm

A stream of Clark County residents on Saturday joined what has become a nationwide consumer revolt against big national banks by transferring their money to local credit unions and community banks.

Saturday marked the official Bank Transfer Day, a grassroots movement designed by a Los Angeles gallery owner and publicized through social media.

“We are sick of banks: their hidden fees and poor customer service,” said Vancouver resident Alyssa Paulson.

Alyssa and her husband, David Paulson, opened a business account at TwinStar Credit Union on Saturday for a snack kiosk business, called Gotta Have It!, they plan to open next week at the Westfield Vancouver Mall. The Paulsons said they plan to close their personal account at Wells Fargo and open one at TwinStar.

“There are less fees and better customer service,” David Paulson said.

Turnout for the event Saturday was modest at TwinStar and iQ Credit Union by the Vancouver Mall.

But local credit union staff members said business had picked up long before the official day.

“We have been busy for the past month” said Wendy Schmaltz, TwinStar’s Vancouver Mall branch manager. “A lot of people started switching before this (movement) started.”

Schmaltz said she had to add staff on Saturdays to accommodate the increase in business.

Danette LaChapelle, iQ senior vice president of marketing, said iQ had a 25 percent increase in new accounts created in October compared with the previous October, so she wasn’t concerned by Saturday’s lackluster turnout.

iQ’s Vancouver Mall location had a rush of new accounts on Friday afternoon, she said.

“It’s a big deal to change your bank,” she said. “You need to think it through and make sure you’re choosing the right place.”

Rising living expenses and resentment of government-funded bailouts have raised interest in turning away from big national banks. Bank of America’s announcement a month ago that it would charge a $5 per month fee for debit card users was the tipping point for many consumers.

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Bank of America on Tuesday capitulated to public pressure and canceled the plan for the fees, but it was too late to stop some of the defections.

Local credit unions have tried to capitalize on the public fury with advertisements, press releases and “switch” kits on their websites.

The “Occupy” movement across the nation, including Occupy Vancouver, also has promoted the event.

Occupy Vancouver protesters passed out community bank and credit union brochures at a demonstration Saturday in downtown Vancouver to encourage residents to bank with local financial institutions.

On Friday, about 20 Occupy Vancouver protesters demonstrated in front of Vancouver City Hall to demand that the city stop banking with Bank of America, said Occupy Vancouver organizer Stephanie Rotondo.

Switching to a community bank or credit union has become “our recent rallying cry,” Rotondo said.

“This is a wonderful way to bring about change in our community,” she said. “If more people bank locally, that’s good for local business, and that’s good for the local economy.”

Bank Transfer Day was the brainchild of a Los Angeles art gallery owner with no ties to credit unions other than personal membership, according to media reports. The event’s Facebook page had nearly 54,000 followers as of Saturday afternoon.