As banks face criticism from Occupy Wall Street protesters and customers angry about increased fees, credit unions are stepping up to take advantage of this dissatisfaction.
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Both industries are bracing themselves for a busy Saturday, which a national campaign is promoting as Bank Transfer Day. It urges customers to calmly and respectfully transfer their balances out of their existing banks and into local credit unions.
“Closing my account all on my lonesome wouldn’t have made a difference to these fat cats,” organizer Kristen Christian said on her campaign’s Facebook page. “But each of YOU standing up with me … they can’t drown out the noise we’ll make.”
At Golden 1 Credit Union, branches will stay open late on Saturday to accommodate a hoped-for flood of new members.
“We have outdoor advertisements, newspaper advertisements,” CEO Donna Bland said. “It’s really shown that consumers have a choice.”
Credit union officials touted their nonprofit status, noting that corporate banks must reward their shareholders, while credit union profits are returned to members. Although open only to specific groups, many credit unions offer lower fees than banks.
“We’re humbled that so many people out there are seeking out credit unions and trusting them with their financial interests,” said Darren Herrmann, CEO of the San Francisco Fire Credit Union, which is open to all residents and workers in The City and San Mateo and Marin counties.
Herrmann said the credit union, which has 30,000 members, enrolled twice as many new members in October as in a typical month.
Many area credit unions report an uptick in membership since Bank of America announced in September that it would charge customers a monthly fee to use debit cards — a move since rescinded.
At Redwood Credit Union, which has branches in The City and North Bay, 600 people who joined in October said the Bank of America fee was the reason, CEO Brett Martinez said.
“People are upset and definitely figuring out that credit unions are a solution to some of the issues,” Martinez said.
Martinez said Redwood branches would have more staff than usual on Saturday, but, fearing crowds, he implored customers to switch on another day.
“If everybody does it on Saturday, that doesn’t work very well,” he said.
Bank officials also aren’t looking forward to Saturday, although some see it as an opportunity to educate customers about the advantages offered by a big bank.
“We’re listening to our customers,” said Ruben Pulido, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, which canceled plans to charge a $3 monthly debit card fee.
Pulido also cited $20.7 million the company donated last year to Bay Area nonprofits and schools.
“As people learn about what we do in the community, and on top of that the work we do to help people meet their needs, a lot of times they’re pleasantly surprised,” he said. “If more people come in Saturday, we’ll take the opportunity to educate them.”
75,670 People pledging on Facebook to join credit unions for Bank Transfer Day as of Nov. 3
433 Credit unions in California
9.67 million Credit union customers in California
7,700 Credit unions in the U.S.
92 million Credit union customers nationwide
Sources: California Credit Union League, Facebook.com/Nov.Fifth