Naomi was a loyal Wells Fargo customers for 13 years. But after she and her husband, Michael, were turned down for a loan to help fund an adoption, Naomi transfered 90 percent of her cash to the San Mateo Credit Union. Michael split his cash between three small banks and Wells Fargo.
“I was seeing red,” Naomi said. “Then we went to a credit union, and they were like, ‘No worries, here’s the loan.’”
Anger at Wall Street and large banking institutions has culminated in nationwide occupations and calls for people to divest from banks by Nov. 5. “Bank Transfer Day” boasts 83,000 supporters on its Facebook event page, and hundreds of thousands of new credit union accounts have been opened nationwide this month. Like Naomi and Michael, many Mission residents say they support credit unions and small banks. But when it comes to actually making the switch, most are worried about the logistics.
One of those people is John Honey. His father lost much of his 401k after the financial meltdown. Despite Honey’s anger over a financial system run amok, he still finds it more convenient to stay with U.S. Bank, though he wants to switch to a credit union eventually.
“I don’t want to have an account there,” he said of U.S. Bank, “but it makes it easy to travel across the states.”
Gene S., who recently moved to San Francisco from New York, said he respects the goals of the Occupy movement and would like to be more involved. But switching from Chase right now, considering that he’s trying to get grounded in a new place, isn’t something he’s thinking about.
“I’m struggling,” he said. “I don’t want to stray too much.”
According to a recent report from the Credit Union National Association, in the past four weeks more than 650,000 people have signed up with credit unions nationwide — almost as many as in all of 2010. About 80 percent of new customers attributed their switch to new debit card fees by banks; the banks have since nixed the fees.
Mark, a 10-year Wells Fargo customer who was leaving the ATM at 16th and Mission, said that additional fees would be a catalyst for him to switch to a credit union. But for now, the task is too daunting to be worth it.
Although people have different reasons for not switching to credit unions just yet, others, like Adam Peterson, have already gone that route.
Peterson just switched over to the SF Fire Credit Union two weeks ago, and will be closing his Chase account after the paperwork goes through. The company he works for, a Potrero-based design firm called I Shot Him, also moved its business accounts to a credit union.
“It’s nice to know that my money is in a not-for-profit company,” he said.
Whether this day of switching to credit unions breaks the, um, bank is another story. According to Mother Jones, the major banks have checking and savings account assets of about $7.5 trillion, while credit unions earned an estimated $4.5 billion in new savings accounts this past month.
As for Naomi and Michael, they would like to eliminate their Wells Fargo account entirely, but one of the advantages big banks have over credit unions is their pervasiveness, which helps when traveling. Even so, they support Bank Transfer Day.
“We’re glad it’s happening,” Naomi said. Her husband added: “Our actions are louder than our words.”
Kate Elston contributed reporting for this story.