Calls for Financial Reform Continue With Planned Balance Transfer Day

Since the end of September, the credit union movement has garnered unprecedented attention. As credit unions across the country continue to assess the impact of Bank Transfer Day, another Facebook-based grassroots movement has emerged: Balance Transfer Day.

Essentially, where Bank Transfer Day encouraged consumers to move their money from big banks to locally-based credit unions, Balance Transfer Day is asking consumers to move their debt. Scheduled for Dec. 11, 2011, and created by the organizers of the Music For Change movement, the Balance Transfer Day Facebook page says it is a “call to everyone who is currently carrying an outstanding balance on one or more of their credit cards to transfer their balance to a card with 0% APR on December 11, 2011.”

The Balance Transfer Day movement coincides with the movement through Congress of a piece of legislation known as the Empowering States’ Rights to Protect Consumers Act. Created by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and supported by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., among others, the proposed bill would amend the Truth in Lending Act of 1968, clearly giving states the power to limit the interest rates charged by credit card companies to consumers.

The Occupy protests and Transfer Day movements have generated a great deal of publicity, and at their core, these protests stem from widespread dissatisfaction with the current economic climate and the feeling that individuals do not have a voice in a financial landscape dominated by a select few institutions.

As New York Times blogger Clyde Haberman wrote recently, Occupy protesters “are denouncing the recklessness of the financial titans who brought the economy to its knees and who continue to thrive unrepentantly.” While not specifically aligned with the Occupy movement, Bank Transfer Day and Balance Transfer Day have keyed on the same sense of dissatisfaction, offering focused, targeted ways for consumers to begin to effect change.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has reported nearly 700,000 new credit union members since Sept. 29, 2011, which represents more than eight times the typical number, and the big banks have publicly announced that they will not implement the proposed debit-card fees. While not solely responsible, Bank Transfer Day was, by all accounts, a success.

While the two are not affiliated, Balance Transfer Day is now looking to piggyback on Bank Transfer Day’s effectiveness and continue to appeal to the masses to collectively push for change. Its message is not quite as simple as its predecessor, nor is it as specifically geared to benefit credit unions, but Balance Transfer Day remains significant to the credit union movement as much for what it represents as for what it hopes to accomplish.

Credit union membership has certainly grown in recent weeks and months. However, the changing public perception, growing public understanding and constant media attention have been arguably as important to the credit union movement as the membership swell itself—in other words, credit unions nationwide are seeing as much benefit in the form of increased awareness as they are in increased traffic.

Subtleties about the structural and cultural differences between credit unions and banks, once considered difficult to convey to the general public, suddenly represent front-page news, and the byproduct of this has essentially been mass credit union education by osmosis. As a result, credit unions have steadily been able to spend less time educating potential members about the credit union difference and more time promoting specific products and services.

Nov. 5 may have passed, but the emergence of Balance Transfer Day signifies that the window for credit unions to continue to capitalize on the current political and economic climate and to significantly grow their market share has not closed. It indicates that the public’s desire for fairer standards extends beyond frustrations only with big banks and into nearly all financial sectors. More than just attracting new members or publicizing low rates, Balance Transfer Day represents an opportunity for credit unions to expand on the growth and impact of recent weeks and to continue to position themselves not only as cost-effective, member-oriented alternatives, but as sophisticated financial institutions capable of offering wrap-around financial services.


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