Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Too Big to Fail? Make ’em Smaller

Today I did what so many others have been inspired to do in response to gross abuses of funds by “too big to fail” banks: I moved my money from Wells Fargo to a smaller, local bank, Kaiser Federal.  Here’s how I did it, and why.

When it comes to all those stories of multimillion dollar bonuses, rising interest rates, and exorbitant overdraft fees, Wells Fargo isn’t quite as bad as Bank of America or Citigroup.  But they still have a history that I’m not comfortable with.  They continued to cut lending to small businesses even after they’d received bailout money.  They’ve been accused of targeting black customers for high-risk loans. And they’ve got a lot of people convinced that they’re too big to fail, meaning that they can continue to engage in risky behavior and count on a government bailout. 

So I decided to make Wells Fargo just a little smaller. 

Sure, the loss of my modest account isn’t going to worry them much, but given the large numbers of people who are responding to the Move Your Money campaign, I think Wells Fargo should be breaking a sweat. 

Closing my account was pretty painless, though it did require careful timing.  Like a lot of people, much of my life is tied up in direct deposits and automatic online bill pay, so I had to make sure that all of that was taken care of before I closed the account.  I also made sure to get enough cash to tide me over until my new ATM card arrived, and I got a cashier’s check issued to pay my February rent.  With all of that taken care of, I just walked into my branch, sat down with a banker, and was an ex-Wells Fargo customer within about fifteen minutes.  They didn’t seem sad to see me go, though the banker did ask me why I was closing my account.  I told him the truth.  Hopefully a lot of other people will too. 

I then headed over to Kaiser Federal, a very modest building a few blocks from my Wells Fargo branch.  There were three desks and two bankers, pop music was playing, and they buzzed me in through the single door.  As I set up my account, my banker asked if I was doing it because of the Move Your Money campaign.  I told him yes.  Just a few minutes later a man with a Swedish accent named Johannes came in and sat down with the other banker.  He said he was leaving Citigroup for Kaiser–also because of Move Your Money. 

They answered all my questions, set me up with online banking, told me that my (free) checks and ATM card would arrive in the mail next week, and gave me a bag full of goodies including a notebook, a mug, and a jar opener.  I spent about forty-five minutes after that updating all of my info online.

I’ll admit one thing that’s probably kind of obvious–moving your money is a bit of a hassle, especially if you’ve got a lot of monthly bills to pay and get your paychecks direct deposited.  It’s less convenient because Kaiser doesn’t have as many ATMs (though they don’t charge you a fee for using other banks’ ATMs).  But these (really, minor) hassles are exactly what the big banks are counting on–they figure that customers will forget about endless fees and predatory lending practices if they can just withdraw cash free of charge from all over the city and not have to update a lot of online info.  They’re counting on apathy. 

A few tips if you plan to move your money:

1. Do your homework: can give you a list of highly rated local banks if you input your zip code.  Not all the local banks are good–choose one that’s got a high rating. 

2. Bring a utility bill with your address on it.  This proved troublesome because I didn’t have one and had long ago gone paperless on all of my bills.  Luckily the bank was able to print out a copy of my payroll stub with my address on it. 

3. It might be better to leave your old account open until you’ve got the ATM card and checks for your new one, especially if certain bills are paid automatically via your old account–sometimes it takes a while for the new info to kick in. 

4. Be patient.  There will be some kinks to iron out–I’ve still got a few phone calls to make and need to make sure that certain withdrawals are going to be made from the right bank–but it’ll all get taken care of. 

Change can be a bit scary, especially when you’re dealing with your hard-earned cash.  But I’m glad to know that my money’s supporting a local business rather than a conglomerate.  And I even got a mug out of the deal.


7 comments on “Too Big to Fail? Make ’em Smaller

  1. Pingback: Move Your Money » Blog Archive » Lindsay’s story

  2. Ms. Geek
    January 28, 2010


    Yeah, I moved my money from WaMu before it became Chase. I moved it down Van Nuys a few blocks to Telesis Credit Union.

    Credit unions are great because the CU’s fiduciary responsibility is to ME. Every member of a CU is a SHAREHOLDER.

    Kaiser Bank sounds pretty good too, but I’m glad I’m at Telesis.

  3. Karen
    January 28, 2010

    Congratulations on your decision not to be prey.

  4. brie
    January 28, 2010

    Yay! I did this last weekend and moved to a credit union. Soooooooo happy.

  5. Lee
    January 28, 2010

    I can’t wait to kick Bank of America’s ass to the curb!

  6. Treesplease
    January 29, 2010

    Love your comment, “change can be scary”. Yes America, change is scary, but the result in the end works out. And no (unlike the media meme) it is not an instantaneous flip on the mouse or remote control, you have to get involved.
    I have been with a CU since 1986 and love it – they talk to you as a person.

  7. gradland
    January 29, 2010

    Thank you to everyone for all the comments, it’s great to hear that so many people are having great experiences with local banks.

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2010 by in Los Angeles and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

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