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4 Ways ‘Bank Transfer Day’ Is Silly

There has been no shortage of fanfare about Bank Transfer Day in the financial industry over the last few weeks. Among the hundreds, perhaps thousands of articles circulating online right now about the nascent event, no fewer than 17 different stories have been pumped out by the Credit Union Times alone. Salivating at the opportunities created by a big bank fee-for-all, community-based financial institutions — especially credit unions — have rushed to embrace Bank Transfer Day.

For those who aren’t yet familiar with Bank Transfer Day, the concept grew from a suggestion made by a 27-year-old Los Angeles art gallery owner. In early October, Kristen Christian proposed a broad boycott of big banks, recommending people close their accounts and switch to credit unions on or before November 5, which she dubbed Bank Transfer Day.

“Together we can ensure that these banking institutions will always remember the 5th of November!!” it says on a Facebook page Christian created for the event. “In a stand of solidarity, we will transfer our money and close our accounts with these major banking institutions to take our business to credit unions.”

She calls big banks’ announcement to charge customers $3 to $5 in monthly debit card fees “a blatant attack on ‘the 99%’ that cannot and will not be tolerated.”

“I started this because I felt like many of you do,” Christian wrote. “I was tired…of them using what little money I have to oppress my brothers and sisters.”

“If ‘the 99%’ removes our funds from the major banking institutions to non-profit credit unions on- or by this date,” she continues, “we will send a clear message to the 1% that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”

Christian has sent out over 350,000 Facebook invitations for Bank Transfer Day. So far, some 60,000 people have accepted her challenge.

So what does all this mean for the thousands of community banks and credit unions in the U.S., those who would be the most obvious benefactors of Bank Transfer Day? Certainly smaller financial institutions across America will see some lift in new accounts throughout the fourth quarter, but it’s unlikely much credit will be owed to Bank Transfer Day. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the concept — inciting people to switch and send a message about fees. But Bank Transfer Day possesses a number of shortcomings — four to be precise — that will keep the event from achieving its potential.

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1. The Date

Look at your calendar. November 5 is a Saturday.

How many financial institutions — particularly smaller ones like the credit unions that fee-fleeing customers have been told to seek — are closed Saturdays? At least one in three. How many only have drive-through hours but no lobby hours? How many are staffed at a level to handle a flood of new customers?

Thank goodness Bank Transfer Day wasn’t scheduled last year, when November 5 fell on a Sunday.

Sarah Snell Cooke, editor of the Credit Union Times, fiercely defends the Saturday event. “Credit unions are supposed to serve their members and potential members and if these people have the time to jump ship from a big bank to a credit unions, it will likely be on a Saturday,” she said.

But create the inconvenience stemming from having do something “on- or before” any date? What difference does it make when someone makes the switch, as long as it’s convenient for them? BofA’s new debit fees don’t take effect until next year, so why rush to meet an arbitrary deadline?

Now of course, Bank Transfer Day supporters are quick to point out that people are instructed to switch “on- or before November 5th.” But it’s not a question of whether Saturday is the appropriate day for this type of event or not. There is simply no good reason to constrain a national bank switching holiday to a single day, regardless of whether it be scheduled for a weekday or weekend. Why not give people a week? Why not a month?

2. The Backstory

Guy Fawkes, a man who is largely regarded as a terrorist, is shown here apprehended by the King’s men just prior to his torture and execution for treason.

Christian says she chose the date of the inaugural Bank Transfer Day for its historical connection to Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday held on (not “on or before”) November 5th. It was on that day in 1605 that Guy Fawkes was arrested for attempting to blow up the House of Lords, a crime for which he was subsequently tortured and put to death. Over the centuries, this odd celebration has evolved, starting at first as an annual commemoration of Fawkes’ failure, with dashes of weird anti-Catholicism thrown in. Today, Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated as a festive, social occasion across England. It’s gone from burning effigies of Fawkes to not much more than a good excuse to set off fireworks.

So why would an event like Bank Transfer Day be linked to 17th century Anglo folklore? What’s the connection between Guy Fawkes and Bank Transfer Day? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“Guy Fawkes had the courage to take on a towering giant, just as we are,” Christian explains.

Umm, yeah but… he failed! People hate him for what he did, and he was executed for it. The holiday named in his honor is a celebration of how his diabolical plan to install a Catholic monarch was thwarted. His is a day that will live infamy.

And yet at the same time, Christian says she hopes Bank Transfer Day will “give a new name to the 5th of November — not as a failed terrorist attack but as Americans standing up and saying we’ve had enough.”

So which is it? Should Bank Transfer Day supporters see Guy Fawkes as an inspiration who should be admired? Or a terrorist everyone should all condemn and forget?

Christian’s contradictions about her creation and its origins don’t stop with Guy Fawkes. In one breath, she explains that seeing TV reports of police cracking down on Occupy Wall Street protesters inspired her to take action against megabanks, but then sharply points out she isn’t affiliated with the OWS movement, despite her generous usage of OWS class warfare language like “the 99%.” At the end of the day, she supports them, and they support her. But she stresses there’s no connection between the two. Even though the Bank Transfer Day folks are lending their logo to the Occupy Wall Street movement in no less than 29 different cities.

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3. The Name

The call-to-action embedded in the name “Bank Transfer Day” is weak. Instead of a raucous call to arms — something like “Tell Your Bank To Shove It Day” — we’re left with the considerably more mealy “Bank Transfer Day.” The name completely lacks any of the passion that should be imbued in this event.

Someone who is mad as hell, someone who isn’t going to take it anymore… they don’t want to just “transfer banks.” They’d prefer to send a message with their middle finger rather than with a polite handshake and a gracious fare-thee-well.

Besides, what is a “bank transfer” anyway? Isn’t that something a customer does between bank accounts, like moving money from their savings to checking account?

There are so many better, catchier, more relevant options that could have been adopted instead. As Ron Shevlin suggests: “CU Later Banks Day,” “Break the Bank Day,” Spank Your Bank Day.” Other ideas include “Flee the Greed” and “Buck Your Bank.”

4. The Logo

The only bright side to the logo selected for Bank Transfer Day is that very few people will see it. As a symbol of defiance, or a visual icon representing the notions underlying Bank Transfer Day, the mask gets an F.

The mask itself comes from the 2006 movie “V for Vendetta,” inspired by Guy Fawkes’ story. In the film, the protagonist wears a mask while using terrorist tactics to fight a totalitarian society.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

A very strange range of inspiration. LEFT: The mask worn by the protagonist in “V for Vendetta.” CENTER: The Bank Transfer Day logo. RIGHT: Theatre masks reminiscent of the bank bashing holiday.

While there is a patriotic overtone expressed in the red-white-and-blue color palette, the rest of the logo is simply horrible. Its conceptual significance links back to the bizarre Guy Fawkes story, while also giving the impression of theater masks. Besides its poor quality and confusing posterization, there is zero relevance to the big bank backlash.

“Who came up with that picture?” asks Ron Shevlin. “It looks like The Joker from the Batman series and movies.”

Banks Need No Help Triggering Their Own Run

Bank Transfer Day isn’t likely to push very many people to close their bank account. Those who were going to switch banks would have done it anyway, with or without an organized event. All Bank Transfer Day does is let folks who are pissed about new debit card fees “send a message” by venting collectively.

Even if all the folks who have accepted Christian’s invitation to “attend” Bank Transfer Day were BofA customers, the impact would be minimal — a paltry 0.12% of the bank’s customer base. BofA was probably anticipating losing as many as one million customers from its fee hikes. What’s 60,000 customers here or there?

Indeed by the time November 5th comes along, credit unions will already have minted tens of thousands of members from the ranks of ex-bank customers, many of whom will have never heard of Bank Transfer Day. Doubt it? Ask the people opening new accounts in the next few weeks if they ever heard of Bank Transfer Day. Bet they haven’t. But they probably have heard of the $5 fee coming at BofA. Or the $3 fee at Wells Fargo. Or the $4 fee at Regions. Or the $5 fee at SunTrust. Or any of the other myriad of fees big banks have rolled out recently. Most people aren’t switching financial institutions over a sense of semi-socialistic injustice. They just don’t want to pay for something they are used to getting free.

Who knows, you could be witnessing the peak of switching activity right now, this week. Two weeks from now on November 5, procrastination and indifference may have taken over impetus and outrage.

Ultimately, Bank Transfer Day’s present value lies entirely in its role as a PR hook. The media is happy to publish articles about populist anti-bank, fee-fleeing protestors who are switching to credit unions. And since every journalist assumes no one knows what a credit union is, they dutifully explain the structure and benefits of financial cooperatives.

If something like Bank Transfer Day were to ever really take off in the credit union industry, it would need the support of trade associations like CUNA. But alas, the credit union lobby group has its hands tied; they can’t be associated with anything that could be interpreted as trying to spark a run on banks — that would be bad political juju. Credit unions, with no champion to lead their cause, will have to fight for themselves.

Much like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Bank Transfer Day feels like it wants to be a full blow revolution. But in the annals of history, this event will probably be regarded as little more than a minor bank customer uprising. Sort of like the Move Your Money campaign.

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Comments

  1. All good points. I would add a fifth reason (and quite frankly wish I had mentioned this in my own blog post):

    What are CUs going to do with the money and the members?

    There’s a prevailing notion in the financial services industry right now that banks and credit unions don’t want more deposits because they don’t have productive uses for it (i.e., can’t lend it out).

    If that’s the case, then what’s a CU going to do with 1000 new members?

    And exactly who are these members going to be? If they’re bringing their $50 monthly balances, and their expectations of free checking with no fees (and refunds on out of network ATM fees), then how profitable are they going to be in the short-term? It’s OK if they’re not profitable in the short-term, but do CUs have any ideas or plans for how to grow the relationships to longer-term profitability?

    Sadly, there appears to be many in the CU industry who don’t see the potential downsides of aligning themselves with this “movement.”

    I suspect, though, that just as the creators of the BTD movement represent a small minority of people getting a disproportionate amount of attention, that the CU people supporting it account for a loudly vocal minority, as well. I’d bet there are plenty of CU execs out there who agree with your post, and worry whether BTD is such a great idea. They’re just not blogging and tweeting about it.

  2. You both raise great points. How do you think community banks or credit unions should position themselves against the backdrop of BTD? Should they ignore it? What if local media asks for a response? Personally, I’d like to see any one of them mount a campaign that responds to consumer’s needs, not their anger…and that doesn’t throw the industry under the bus.

  3. I love you guys. First you whine that we aren’t getting new members. Then that we aren’t getting new younger members.

    But here you go – a grassroots movement driving in younger people! Better yet, they are previous bank customers (not just credit union on credit union poaching).

    And you complain about the LOGO? The date? It’s as if you think this was a thought out campaign by a Cu marketer (none of which have ever generated this kind of movement, but we are so clever, aren’t we?) and not what it is, something a woman started on Facebook because she was fed up.

    It reminds me of the old theater joke: how many actresses does it take to change a light bulb?

    Three. One to do it and two to say “I could have done it better.”

    I get the complaint/concern about deposits versus loans. Which is why we should spend more ad/social media time encouraging people to move their debt. Which is what I’m off to do right now.

  4. Seriously??? These are the best four “strategic” reasons you could come up with? You don’t like the mask?

    It is a simple matter of a person choosing where to spend their money. I do not want to spend $5 a month to use my debit card, so instead, I will do business with someone who does not charge that fee. It is really no different than choosing to use a credit card that has no annual fee. From a strategic standpoint, cutting unnecessary expenses is a sound idea. Why pay for something you can get for free?

    I won’t get into the unethical business practices, the sub-prime lending fiasco, or the real cost of the taxpayer bailouts…but it isn’t really the $5 a month fee that is fueling the anger here (despite all the rhetoric). This movement never would have gotten off the ground if it had not been for the surrounding issues our country is dealing with.

    Will it cause an impact on big banks? Probably not, but everyone knows that it feels good to be heard…and the world is hearing our frustration if nothing else.

  5. first the date is not set in stone. It says, “on or before” Nov 5th. Second, are you really going to let a picture dis sway someone from trying to save money? Third, who the hell are you?

  6. Jeffry, I completely disagree with needing to get CUNA involved. BTD–good moniker or not–is a TRUE movement. Publicly involving trade associations would only be the tail wagging the dog.
    In reference to my comments on Ron’s blog, I also want to point out that the middle and lower income people who can’t afford to take off a week day to transfer their accounts are exactly the people credit unions were designed to serve back when the industry was a movement. Credit unions initially were housed at employers’ buildings so the members could conduct their business during a break. Given today’s expanded fields of membership, Saturday hours at credit unions are more than appropriate though I realize they’re abbreviated if credit unions have them at all.
    Check out my column this week, which is all about the potential downsides as well as the positive at http://www.cutimes.com/2011/10/23/bank-transfer-day-opportunity-and-preparation
    I love that this discussion is taking place, no matter what your position.

  7. I have to agree with Winter’s comments. In the words of Mike Ditka “who are you cr@pping?”

    In a very recent post you suggested “Pay-it-Forward” day. In that post you clearly contradicted all the points you made in this very article.

    1. Date – Saturday, November 5th or before then, sounds equal to the proposed third Thursday in October.

    2. Back story – Sounds like we are trading one movie back story for another. I do prefer Kevin Spacey in the leading role, but box office numbers suggest that V for Vendetta doubled the sales of Pay-it-Forward. (According to Box office Mojo)

    3. Name – It may be me but, Bank Transfer Day has a clearer name that gets the point of event across than Pay-it-Forward International CU Day.

    4. Logo – As far as I know there is not logo to compare.

    Yes, Bank Transfer Day has it’s flaws but lets note its public relations success and discuss ways to improve and enhance an idea that is gaining real press.

    Jeffery keep up the great ideas and keep pushing the movement but, I ask you not to knock down ideas to get there.

  8. @Winter – It sounds like you are suggesting it’s inappropriate to criticize the execution of Bank Transfer Day simply because its objective is honorable. Neither Ron nor myself have ever advocated the pursuit of any idea that comes along, and no one said “disregard your marketing intellect” when such ideas do come along.

    @Sarah – The suggestion to involve a national trade organization (whether that be CUNA or someone else) is to help correct the marketing flaws that result when a national campaign is left to amateurs. A little marketing acumen does not automatically kill a grassroots movement with corporate taint.

    @Mikal – You are comparing two, radically different campaigns. One is an pure awareness campaign built around community involvement. The other is an active switching campaign built around a specific product. (1) The impact of a pay-it-forward event would be maximized by concentrating it on a single day, whereas the impact of every angry bank customer trying to switch to credit unions on a single day would be devastating. The difference lies in who is taking the action — a few thousand credit union employees vs. millions of consumers. One is practical, the other is not. (2) The pay-it-forward story makes sense. Guy Fawkes’ story doesn’t. Box office results are irrelevant. (3) (4) In the pay-it-forward concept, there is no need for a single, unifying name or logo (which explains why one was not proposed), since the event would be a surprise requiring no mass media build-up.

  9. Point 3 is the only one that makes sense. Points 1, 2, and 4 are foolish. Thanks Captain Hindsight! Way to critique someone actually doing something spur of the moment! I bet you wish you could get off your butt and do something instead of just criticizing everything that comes round ;)

  10. Just to clarify, what I don’t get is critiquing a grassroots movement with the same criteria you would use for a corporate marketing campaign. It’s easy to pick something apart, perhaps a more useful discussion is to analyze why it’s working so much better than other campaigns with better names, better logos, better days of the week and better historical allusions.

  11. @Winter – What you see as “working better” (i.e., an influx of checking customers) is more likely the direct and immediate result of the anti-fee backlash rather than the consequence of Bank Transfer Day. Online, you can clearly tell Bank Transfer Day has baked in support from the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement. One established movement spawned another, with the activists coming along. Simply put, it’s working better because banks have done a fantastic job pissing people off and shooting themselves in the PR foot.

  12. Dear hmm:

    Out of curiosity, why do you find points 1, 2, and 4 foolish?

    And NOT out of curiosity, but you do NOT see why you’re being hypocritical? You dismiss three of the four points as foolish without any explanation or rationale…and then criticize the author for being critical!

    Nice work. Very impressive. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  13. Credit unions were seeing huge upticks in new members immediately after BofA announced its $5 debit card fee and before Bank Transfer Day gained any steam. You won’t find the mass media mention Bank Transfer Day prior to October 6, while credit unions like Navy FCU, BECU, Arizona State and many others were already reporting massive surges in new members.

  14. Kimberee Karr says:

    I just wanted to say, “Thanks,” for your amazingly entertaining article. In fact, I found it so enjoyable that I actually had to check whether it was you or The Onion that had penned such a witty bit on Bank Transfer Day.

    Why are you so Anti-Bank Transfer Day? What did it ever do to you? Not invite you to the party (which would be terribly sad since everyone is invited)?

    As someone who is actually in the process of moving their account to a CU, I think that this grassroots movement is pretty awesome. Sure it’s not perfect, but what is? Haven’t you heard? Perfect is the enemy of good and good gets stuff done. Bank Transfer Day is about generating awareness. Perfect or not, people are paying attention, and as much as you want to think that thirty-somethings and under have always cared about what FIs are doing, we haven’t. Yes, it is tragic that the lasting effects of the Durbin Amendment are not on TMZ’s radar, but seriously, if a Facebook page with a crazy, memorable logo is going to get kids to look–give it a little credit.

  15. @Kimberee – The article simply points out the ways in which Bank Transfer Day is flawed, and the issues that could be addressed to maximize its potential. Pointing out the shortcomings of Bank Transfer Day is not the same thing as suggesting any initiative — including this one — must be perfect. Enthusiasm for- and belief in a concept is no excuse to resist criticism offered objectively. And for the record, The Financial Brand has never once implied “≤30-somethings have always cared about what FIs are doing.” In fact, The Financial Brand has consistently asserted the opposite.

  16. If you were right about any of this, you wouldn’t have even heard of the movement. By virtue of you knowing about it, and writing an article to further awareness of it, you’re proving your own points impotent.

  17. @Patrick – You’re joking, right? It can’t come as any surprise that those who live, work and breathe financial marketing would have heard of Bank Transfer Day, especially when industry insiders have subscriptions to banking trade publications that merrily amplify the event’s significance.

  18. Hmm. Perhaps you’d like to do a simple search on google and compare the hits in mainstream media (let alone social media visibility) for “bank transfer day” and “ditch your bank” and the other half dozen credit union created campaigns over the last few months?

    Most of our (meaning cu generated) ideas catch buzz worthy air among us. But the authentic nature of this (do you track the originators comments on Facebook? She really has the courage of ther convictions) has blown away all our (myself included) “better” ideas in social media.

  19. @Winter – The article doesn’t dissect the entire year’s worth of bank-bashing, anti-fee marketing that has flowed from credit unions, a flavor of ads credit unions have been running heavily since 2008.. “Ditch Your Bank” is an entirely separate campaign from the “Bank Transfer Day” idea, unless (like the CU Times) you are classifying anything with a waft of anti-bank sentiment as a “Bank Transfer Day” promotion. And just because this is the best idea you’ve seen in forever doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been (significantly) better.

  20. Michael McKenney says:

    The viewpoint expressed in this article reminds me of another seriously flawed viewpoint from 2006. In that flawed thinking, similar ‘analysts’ told us there was no Housing Bubble. We know how that ended. My projection: Author of article will require a used mask to hide all the crow he had to eat on Nov. 5th.

  21. @Editor You stated: “And just because this is the best idea you’ve seen in forever doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been (significantly) better.”

    If you are offering to organize a significantly better effort, I will support your efforts. If you wrote this post solely for the purpose of pointing out flaws in Bank Transfer Day and calling it silly..well, I’ve heard you. If that’s all there is, you just don’t get the same credibility I would give to someone who is actually making an attempt (no matter how silly the attempt may be) to effectuate change.

    P.S. I’m glad you changed the title…it is now much more on point with your post than the previous one was.

  22. @El – I switched from BofA to a credit union in early October. Did it require an organized movement to “effectuate change?” Nope. BofA’s fee increases were a source of irritation, so I switched — not to “send a message to the 1%” or protest “the oppression of my brothers and sisters.” I just wanted to save a few bucks. My interests in this subject are limited to the intra-industry issues it raises: Is this a threat to banks? How do credit unions stand to gain? What could have been different or better? Credit unions have bickered internally for years about whether or not they should organize some sort of national effort, and it is through this lens that I offer my analysis. Plenty of credit union professionals laud Bank Transfer Day as “the greatest thing to come along.” That may be the case, but that doesn’t automatically classify it as “great,” nor does it mean that credit unions couldn’t learn something about how a national movement could be better structured. As far as organizing my own movement… I have no vested interest in seeing banks suffer nor credit unions prevail. This is an advice website for financial marketers, not an incubator for the next wave of bank bashing protests.

  23. @Editor Your clarification gave me a better insight into your comments. Thanks. I have no interest in bank bashing, either, but I do believe people have valid concerns over unethical and illegal banking practices. As a financial marketing outsider, I have clearly stumbled into the wrong forum for discussing my opinions. I appreciate that you were so polite in pointing that out to me.

    Now…if you will excuse me, I will just show myself out…

  24. Kimberee Karr says:

    @Editor – Yes, your article is objective (and very well written, for that matter)…except for the title. “Silly” implies stupid or foolish. Are you really saying that movement is stupid or that it could have been done better? From your posts, I’m under the impression that your intention was the latter. “Silly” makes your title catchy (I’m in marketing, and I appreciate sassy titles), but I was kind of shocked that I was brought to your website after clicking a link that was tweeted by Bank Innovation.

    Anyway, I never expected The Financial Brand to call an awareness effort like this silly…so kudos to you for getting me to read the article!

    Like you, the movement didn’t cause me to move my account to a CU, but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one out there who’s tired of fees and crappy customer service. If anything, all community FIs better wake-up and take note. People are looking for a change, and the desire for change won’t stop after November 5. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope that some genius marketer comes up with a campaign to take advantage of this opportunity.

  25. Credit unions are embracing this movement much more than you have recognized. They are putting out advertisements, opening their doors on November 5th and CUNA is printing t-shirts supporting the movement! A LOT of people haven’t heard of CUs, so do your research, before you bash a notable PR movement. Talk is cheap, as this movement so aptly acknowledges, maybe financial actions against big banks will actually raise some eyebrows nationwide about their business practices and fees for their poorest customers. I support BTD, and it’s already an acronym!

  26. @Kimberee – Okay. Fair enough. I changed the headline to “4 Ways ‘Bank Transfer Day’ is Silly.” While the core objective isn’t silly (as the article concedes), the name, date, logo and backstory are.

  27. Bob Armstrong says:

    It seems that Ron Shevlin is the creator of a blog called The Marketing Tea Party. I want to thank him and the anonymous author at thefinancialbrand.com. for outing themselves. Don’t get ? Please see:
    Occupy Wall Street: Outing the Ringers
    http://youtu.be/i9zkQcLi4Yo

    [Editor's Note: A quick check on The Financial Brand's About tab reveals the author, editor and publisher of this site.]

  28. FIve years ago a debat/discussion like this (online) with people like this would’ve never happened. SM at its finest. Like your story or not, thanks for lighting a fire Jeffry!

    BTW: Totally agree with you on pts. 2 and 4.

    But I’m hoping BTD is just the spark to help bring CUs together perhaps in some other well thought out, cohesive campaign. Really need to bring this industry together to create any real, collective marketing momentum to the masses. Shevlin’s “Spank Your Bank” would be good start.

  29. Interesting viewpoints. Although I disagree that the concept is “silly,” it is also important that credit unions be prepared for the potential rise in memberships. I discuss this in yesterday’s post on my own blog. Credit unions need to take advantage of any opportunity they can get to capture more of the market share.

  30. Worth noting that since this article was published, Kristen Christian, the organizer of the Bank Transfer Day event, has stripped her Facebook pages of references to “Guy Fawkes” and all the class warfare language (“the 99%,” “oppression of brothers and sisters,” etc.). It has been essentially depoliticized, and is now a more simple, streamlined “big bank revolt.”

  31. Interesting article – I began writing a lengthy comment in response, but it quickly spun wildly out of control and ended up being this blog post: http://cuhistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/bank-transfer-day-populism-and-strategy.html

  32. Thanks for this analysis. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

  33. This article completely inspired me. Bank Transfer Day symbolizes everything that is wrong with credit union leadership. And further reason why we are irrelevant as an industry.

  34. I would love to speak with whomever wrote this article! Please reach out to me!

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