Move Your Money moves some cash

The big banks may not yet be running scared at the campaign against them, but at least one small bank is delighted

Published January 19, 2010 7:27PM (EST)

In the past three years I've written more blog posts than I care to count name-checking a slew of the nation's biggest banks. But has anyone at Chase or Citibank or Washington Mutual ever deigned to notice? Sadly, no. I have not received a single e-mail or phone call -- well, except for that time when a nice man from Chase called to ask me why my check to pay off a credit card bill had (accidentally) bounced. Aside from that, the indifference has been quite hurtful.

But all I had to was write one post mentioning a local San Francisco Bay Area community institution, Mechanics Bank, in the context of the Move Your Money campaign, and one week later, I got a call from Rauly Butler, Mechanics' senior vice president for retail banking.

Butler had looked me up because he wanted to tell me that just one day after I had announced in Salon that I planned to move my money out of Chase and over to Mechanics, the bank's retail branches had experienced a surprising surge of new account openings. We're not talking an overwhelming mass movement here -- six new accounts  in a single day at one branch, seven at another, and so on -- but Butler was convinced the new business was directly attributable to my post and the associated publicity currently being showered on the effort by the Huffington Post et al., to chip away at big-bank hegemony.

Butler is a personable, talkative guy who seemed to very much enjoy his job at a not-too-big-to-fail financial institution. He wanted to let me know that if had any questions, or needed any help moving my account to Mechanics, I should feel free to call him. I understand that this was in part just savvy P.R., stroking a journalist in the hopes of getting more free publicity (hey, whaddya know, it worked!).  I'm definitely not confident that every customer of Mechanics is on a first-name basis with the senior V.P.s. But all the same, it feels different. It feels human.

Move Your Money is a way to assert independence and autonomy in a world that seems all too shaped by powerful forces beyond our control. And while J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon doesn't appear to be shaking in his boots yet at the threat to his dominion, for a smaller, local bank, every new account makes a real difference. That's more than enough reason to make a change.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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