Goodbye, Bank. Hello, Credit Union.

Back in September, 650,000 people did something smart with their money. The timing wasn’t right for me to join those who participated in Bank Transfer Day on November 5th, but I’ve finally begun. In fact, I’m almost done with my transition from being a customer of a corporate bank to being a member of a local credit union, namely Redwood Credit Union. Late is definitely better than never in this case. Below I reflect a little on why it took me so long and why I chose to do it now.

Since I opened my first bank account as a teenager, I’ve been banking with big banks like Citi. My mother helped me with my first checking account with a community bank that got silently absorbed by Citi. I was ignorant what this meant for much of my life. Today, it feels as if there’s a moral mandate for anyone wishing to sleep well at night when they think about who is holding their money. And you’re not exempt if you’re broke. Even if you live check-to-check and don’t have significant savings (or maybe especially if that’s your case, as that would suggest you’re more likely to buy credit, which is how banking institutions make most of their money), I think this is important to all of us. In fact, according to the President of the Credit Union National Association, “will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings.”

Goodbye, “Convenience”

Besides my own ignorance, I stayed around for the convenience, or perceived convenience in some cases. I thought I’d have trouble finding ATMs or using my debit card, but that’s not been the case at all. I’ve been using my new debit card everywhere I used my old one, and I’m lucky in that I pass my credit union everyday to & from work. Those scenarios I had invented in which I was cashless and without access to funds, not so.

In fairness, the one feature I miss a little from my old bank is their online banking. Yes, my credit union allows me to pay bills online and manage online transfers, but the user experience may not have felt cutting edge 1999, when I suspect it was first created, seriously. As a web worker, I think this may affect me more than the average user, but I’m certain you don’t need to be a Usability expert to conclude that Redwood Credit Union’s online banking is really showing it’s age. I sort of expected this. It makes sense that, with less budget for it’s online customer experience, is likely to have a more compromised one. It’s not that Citibank’s was so wonderful. It was decent. It’s just wonderful in comparison to what I have to use now.

Customer experience in the form of phone support, which we all need from time to time, is admittedly another mixed bag. Still the Credit Union wins. Citibank offered 24hr customer support, which is all fine & well, but what do I need that for anyway?! There’s unlikely anything I have to discuss with my bank that can’t wait until business hours. Furthermore, in the few instances I actually needed phone support outside of business hours, it came in the form of a faceless voice working from some other part of the world. I’m not categorically against the type of outsourcing that comes with a global economy, but when it comes to my money, I’d like being recognized by customer service over time. In my experience with Redwood Credit Union, that took just a few weeks. When I recently had to phone RCU for some support, the person helping me knew exactly which one of her colleagues originally helped set up my account. That personal touch goes a really long way for me. That’s opposed to calling an 800 number….to enter my account number….to wait on hold…to eventually say my account number to the call center operator who never received it and is too caught up in following the orders of the call center manager to be a real human.

Don’t Be Evil, Move Your Money

In case I’ve been tip-toeing around an elephant in the room, I’ll be sure to stop now and say: those banks are fucking evil and do not deserve your business! There’s simply no way I could support in good faith an organization guilty of misleading investors in ways that resulted in the current economic crisis. I’d much rather my bank apply its resources to the community in which I live than into the bottom lines of shareholders, who live nowhere near me.

I really enjoy how filmmaker Eugene Jarecki expresses this in his Move Your Money.

So if you’ve not already, please consider removing your money from corporate-owned banks. Mother Jones does a much better job at answering the question “How Do I Move My Money Out of a Big Bank?” than my brain droppings above can do.