Bank Transfer Day: 10 Years later

Aside from the day FDR signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law, “Bank Transfer Day” may have been the single most transformational day in the Credit Union Movement’s history. Ten years later, credit unions continue to serve the throngs of consumers who became members on Nov. 5, 2011, offering them a cooperative, not-for-profit choice focused on providing value to consumers and positive impact to communities.

An Era of Mistrust in Wall Street

The history books show the economy was recovering from the Great Recession in Q4, 2011, but in Main Street households, families still struggled to regain their financial footing. There was intense distrust for Wall Street and the for-profit financial services sector.

A California art gallery owner, Sigurd Olin Christian, is credited with founding Bank Transfer Day by posting an online rant about big bank fees. Christian’s invite to consumers to close their big bank accounts and move to local credit unions by Nov. 5 went viral. Other groups such as “Occupy Wall Street” and “Move Your Money” were similarly campaigning for consumers to ditch their banks.

On that historic day alone, the Credit Union National Association tracked 40,000 new memberships nationwide, and in the following weeks, the momentum continued. The Northwest Credit Union Association tracked 100,000 new memberships across the region during Q4 of 2011, when the Bank Transfer Day “revolution” was making headlines.

A Big Day in the Northwest

The original Bank Transfer Day fell on a Saturday. Though not all credit unions were open six days a week, many opened their doors for the special occasion.

Unitus Community Credit Union’s 2011 advertising invited consumers to join the credit union and “Escape those scary fees.”

“My most vivid memory from the day was stepping outside of our building and being met with the sound of a crowd chanting, ‘Vote with your dollars,’” said Kim Faucher, Vice President of Marketing for Portland-based Trailhead Credit Union, then known as Northwest Resource Federal Credit Union.

In just three hours,  the credit union signed on 20 new members — unheard of growth in a single day for what was then a one-branch credit union. Today, Trailhead’s three-branch network is popular among urban Portland residents and serves more than 9,000 members.

BECU’s branches across Washington also saw a lot of activity during that period.

“On Bank Transfer Day, I remember being extremely busy yet feeling a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment,” said Deborah Donnelly, now the Senior Program Manager of Talent Management. “The Contact Center I worked at was slammed with calls from people either wanting to join BECU or to simply learn about the credit union and what makes us different than a traditional bank. Many of my fellow colleagues and I worked extra hours to help cover the workload to ensure we were answering questions and meeting our future members’ needs. Through those conversations, I truly felt I was making a difference and connecting with our members no matter where they were at in their financial journey.”

Unitus Community Credit Union saw a 40% increase in new memberships in the weeks immediately before and after Bank Transfer Day. Halloween advertising invited new members to join and “escape those scary fees.”

“The outpouring of support we received during this time, differentiating us from the big banks, was inspiring,” said Lori Fink, AVP, Marketing and Brand Development.

On Bank Transfer Day and often since, Credit Union Movement leaders have aptly pointed out that every day is a good day for new members to join. And they’re right.

Today, 60% of Northwest consumers — 8.1 million people — have chosen credit unions as their preferred financial services partners.

Spread the Word with These Resources

Messaging the Credit Union Difference is important every day. NWCUA is pleased to share resources to help you do so.

Visit this “Share the CU Love” page in the Marketing Resource Center to find some evergreen images you can share on your social media sites. Simply post them and add links to your homepage or member application page.

Credit unions’ unique, not-for-profit cooperative structure means they don’t pay stockholders. Instead, they return their earnings to members. These quarterly reports by CUNA demonstrate what direct benefit returns to members look like in each state. Follow the links to find the analysis for your state.

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Posted in CU Difference.