Outraged by the federal government's multibillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street, Asheville residents are registering their displeasure by withdrawing their assets from arrogant "too-big-to-fail" megabanks in favor of local institutions that serve their own community. Joining forces with fellow citizens nationwide, Ashevilleans across the political spectrum are voting with their bank accounts, sending a strong message to both Washington and Wall Street.
Despite the latter's direct responsibility for precipitating the financial crisis, these huge institutions remain unrepentant — even after receiving tens of billions of taxpayer dollars via the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Refusing to lend to small businesses in a meaningful way, they continue their high-risk activities, award huge bonuses to their chief executives, and spend millions lobbying Congress to defeat financial reform, ensuring that taxpayers will also have to pick up the tab for future financial fiascos.
Meanwhile, our political leaders in Washington appear to lack the will to resolve the problem. And some citizens, awash in cynicism and hopelessness, say this is just the way things work in our nation: socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us. But a small band of visionaries has devised a simple, effective way for ordinary folks to take direct action on their own behalf: the Move Your Money project.
The concept is simple: shift your checking and savings accounts from such Wall Street behemoths as Bank of America, Wachovia and Citibank to a community bank or credit union.
Area residents speak out
To get a sense of how this movement is shaping up locally, I put out a query on Facebook. Here are some of the responses:
Lael Gray, Asheville: "My husband and I decided that our real power as citizens lies in where we put our dollars. We're always on the lookout for ways to buy local, so the Move Your Money project caught our attention immediately. So far the main advantage of working with the local bank we selected is that we've gotten a much better deal on our checking account that now earns interest! And there are no monthly fees for online banking."
Suzy Hoff, Franklin: "I found a local bank here in Franklin, and they're very kind and they don't pass judgment if I'm not wearing my Sunday-best clothes. … I get more personal treatment, and the staff members are easy to deal with."
Eric Miller, Asheville: "I think it really hit me when all the TARP stuff was going on. I was going out of my way to get local meat from Hickory Nut Gap, trout from Sunburst Trout Farm, etc., yet I was going to the Wal-Mart of banks. My new bank made everything very easy, with much shorter waits (if any) and much more personal attention. … We also get interest on our checking and can use any ATM."
Laura Collins, Asheville: "I recently moved my main checking account from Wachovia to Asheville Savings Bank. The interest checking there really appealed to me, and their customer service is among the best I've ever come across."
A community banker weighs in
"Bank of Asheville's deposits were up 20 percent during 2009," reports President and Chief Executive G. Gordon Greenwood, "moving us from 12th place to eighth place out of a total of 19 banks in Buncombe County. Other community banks are experiencing something similar."
"People are realizing that we offer all the services of the bigger banks — online banking, bill pay, credit cards, debit cards and so on," says Greenwood. "And of course, there's a definite advantage to being able to talk face to face with an officer who can actually make a decision for the bank. Plus, 95 percent of our loans are made to consumers, mortgage holders and small businesses right here in Buncombe County."
How about it, Asheville?
Now it's time for the city of Asheville to transfer its money from Wachovia/Wells Fargo, Bank of America and BB&T to community banks. During the Feb. 9 City Council meeting, Council member Cecil Bothwell proposed considering just such a switch.
"In light of the poor management decisions evident among banks considered 'too big to fail,' I suggest that the city of Asheville might do well to bank with local banks which have proven to be resilient and responsive to the needs of our local community," Bothwell explains. "It seems to me that local tax dollars collected and distributed by the city government would better serve the community if we banked locally. Council has embraced the idea that we should bolster the local economy and local small businesses whenever we can, and moving our money can be part of that effort."
Move your money!
Some might claim that switching from their current bank is too much trouble. But
the Move Your Money Web site (moveyourmoney.info) lays out a very straightforward process. Read the FAQs and checklist and then proceed to "Find a Bank/Credit Union," where you can choose a local institution that meets your specific needs. (To view a list of highly rated WNC banks and credit unions, go to http://tinyurl.com/y882rsb.) Before moving your money, however, you'll also want to check the institution's safety rating and whether your deposits would be FDIC-insured.
With a little foresight and perseverance, you can make this change with grace and ease. And the rewards are huge — more personalized service, lower fees and higher interest, a focus on the needs of local families and businesses, and loans made where customers actually live and work. What's not to like?
[Writer Bruce Mulkey lives in Asheville with his wife and their four cats. Visit his blog at http://www.brucemulkey.com and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]