James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, January 22, 2010

Take a little bite out of big banks

A group of people that includes Arianna Huffington has begun what appears to be a genuine grassroots movement to cut the “too big to fail” banks down to a more reasonable size.

Huffington isn't promoting herself on this campaign, at least not in a big way. She's apparently letting the thing build on its own, among anonymous citizens who see the logic and act, and pass the word to their friends.

Soon after I discovered the existence of the movement, a friend mentioned in an email that he and his partner are moving all of their funds from one of the giant robber banks with which they done business for many years to a credit union. That gives strength to the sense that this is a movement that may catch on; the friend had only just heard of the wider movement of which I speak.

It's a lovely idea. The required actions are cost-free and would take the average person very little time. That doesn't mean that average, almost terminally lazy American will do it, of course, but I'd like to think enough people will act to bite a few million dollars from the incomes of the made men of banking.

Simply withdraw any funds you have in the big banks and move the money to smaller institutions, and replace credit cards from the big banks with others issued by smaller organizations. There are many smaller banks, community banks and credit unions that can use your business and will better use your money.

You're fully protected by federal deposit insurance from losses up to $250,000 in a small bank just as you are in a big one

Credit unions and many community banks still are lending to consumers and to small businesses, while the big banks are hoarding their resources and slipping much of the money into the pockets of their executives.

It really is easy. Aside from big-bank credit cards, I did it more than two decades ago. Almost all of my banking is done through my credit union. I was lazy about the credit cards, but I'll have dumped the big-bank cards within the next seven days, and it's taken less effort than a walk around the block.

Top executives of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America appeared before a Congressional committee Jan. 13, 2010, and recited their bland, we-don't-really-mean-it mea culpas. Most people didn't see their tightly scripted appearances because increasingly feeble television news operations can do only one news story at a time, and – rightfully, if they can do only one – the story of the week was Haiti. That saved the bankers from another explosion of public anger.

To make action easier, Huffington and the other people who started this thing -– they describe themselves as a group of friends who came up with the plan during a dinner conversation -- have created Moveyourmoney.info, an apparently amateur-made Web site.

If you don't know of a credit union for which you are eligible for membership, or don't know how to find a community bank, the Web site has a place to type in your zip code. Then click, and you'll get a list of community banks in your area. There is no charge.

I'd add a caution, though:

The people who created the site obviously can't know the country community-by-community. When I tried out the list of banks for my area, several of the names that came up were branches of TCF Bank. No one who cares about honest politics or social justice would do business with a TCF Bank. The organization is the feudal playground of an extreme right winger who was for a time chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party and who often spouts Cheney-like pronouncements through the local media.

But several alternatives were offered, fortunately. Do check out the banks on theMoveyourmoney.info list, before moving your money. That takes only minutes.

Do it.