Elk Grove resident Jack Covert, 37, has been a Bank of America customer since 1992. But the software engineer and father of four recently made a decision that’s becoming more common among consumers nationwide: He’s moving his money to a credit union.
“They hit me with fees everywhere,” Covert said of Bank of America. “It seems like they’ve designed their entire business to figure out ways to suck cash away from me.”
Angered by proposals for new fees, government bailouts and a general perception that major banks are greedy and out of touch, a growing number of Americans are deserting them for credit unions and community banks. Tens of thousands pledged to make the switch Saturday on ‘Bank Transfer Day.’ The nationwide event was started by a 27-year-old small business owner on Facebook and gained steam over the last few weeks.
Some credit unions and small banks that do business in Elk Grove say they’re already reaping the benefits of the consumer backlash.
SAFE credit union, which has 150,000 members in the Sacramento region, saw a 54 percent increase in online membership applications in the first two weeks of October, said Vice President of Marketing Paul Hersek.
“Absolutely, I think we can attribute [some of] that to the media attention [on big banks],” said Hersek.
New account openings at the Elk Grove branch of grew by one-third from September to October. With only 600 Elk Grove accounts, the small Northern California bank is a relative newcomer to town, and financial services manager Tony Goularte pulled out all the stops for Bank Transfer Day.
“We’ve added additional staff and we’re going to have a big sandwich board outside that says ‘Live local, bank local,’ " Goularte said last week.
Goularte enticed customers with the bank’s generous ATM fee policy: not only do they not charge fees for customers to use out-of-network machines, but they will also refund fees charged to their accountholders by other banks.
“We’re kind of known as the Cheers of banking, where everyone knows your name,” Goularte said.
extended its hours to 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at both of its Elk Grove branches Saturday.
“Consumers are awakening to the idea that there are better choices than big banks,” Golden1 President Donna Bland said in a press release.
Nationwide, the Credit Union National Association reports that credit unions have added more new savings accounts in the past month than in all of 2010.
“When [banks] took the bailout money, I expected them to be thankful for the assistance and try to help the American people. But they’ve continued to stick it to us.”
Elk Grove customers looking to transfer their cash can use the Move Your Money project’s online community bank and credit union finder. Elk Grove Patch’s business directory also has a list of banks and credit unions in town.
While representatives of credit unions emphasized the range of services they offer to individual accountholders, customers Elk Grove Patch spoke with cited larger philosophical reasons for moving their money.
“When [banks] took the bailout money," Covert said. "I expected them to be thankful for the assistance and try to help the American people. But they’ve continued to stick it to us.”
Anne Brackett, an Elk Grove resident who banks at Golden1, said she chose the credit union because of its support for the local economy.
“A community bank encourages community investment and is committed to the local citizenry,” she said.
Big banks counter that they, too, are investing in communities. Wells Fargo Bank spokesperson Julie Campbell said the bank donated $9 million to non-profit organizations in Northern and Central California last year.
Campbell also pointed out that Wells Fargo dropped its plans for a $3.00 monthly fee on debit card users after customers in focus groups complained.
“We take this issue very seriously,” said Campbell. “Obviously if they [customers] choose to close their account we would help them do that, but we want them to remember why they chose to bank with us in the first place.”