Bank Transfer Day and Its Effect on Baltimore

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Remember Bank Transfer Day? That push by consumer activists for people to switch their accounts from commercial banks to credit unions in November? Well, it worked. Javelin Strategy & Research finally published a report estimating how many people actually participated. Looks like 5.6 million customers switched to credit unions in the last ninety days, with 610,000 of them naming Bank Transfer Day as their reason. Over 1.4 million cited bank fees (the main issue behind BTD).

But that’s the whole country. To find out what kind of impact Bank Transfer Day had locally, I spoke with Dorothea Stierhoff, Senior PR Manager at MECU, Baltimore City’s credit union. According to her, MECU has seen an increase in membership since Occupy Wall Street and Bank Transfer Day, but hasn’t parsed out how much of that increase is specifically due to either event. Her impression is that credit unions on the West Coast saw a bigger bump than their East Coast counterparts. The greatest benefit she’s seen from OWS and BTD is “more people knowing what credit unions are. When you said credit union, people thought it was a ‘union.’ They didn’t realize it was a financial cooperative, and it’s something they can join.” In fact, MECU membership is open to “anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Baltimore City.” You could even join if you are only related to someone who fits one of those categories.

Stierhoff explains the appeal of credit unions: “People like the idea of being the owner. In a credit union, you become a member, and the profits go to you.” And she’s not blowing smoke. “You know, we gave 4.25 million dollars to our members last year. I don’t know of a bank that did that.” Hmmm, let me think a second.

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