Since September, individuals with an axe to grind against the glass tower-encased bigwigs of Wall Street have pieced together a seemingly unorganized but still unified protest in hopes of changing a system that has turned against them.
But when those corporate giants finally ceded a battle, it wasn’t on the grounds of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, and it wasn’t against the sign-toting soldiers of Occupy Wall Street.
Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) on Tuesday announced it would drop its proposed $5-per-month debit-card fee — because the bank’s customers revolted against the move. News of BofA’s reversal marked the latest and most important of a steady string of consumer-led victories, including:
- JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) on Friday reportedly decided to end its two-state test for debit-card fees this month and does not plan on imposing such charges in the near future.
- Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) announced Friday that tests of a $3-per-month debit-card fee in five states, originally scheduled to appear on statements Nov. 15, would be nixed.
- SunTrust (NYSE:STI), the Atlanta-based regional bank, announced Monday it was dropping its own $5-per-month debit-card fee starting Wednesday. Georgia-based Regions Bank (NYSE:RF) followed suit, dropping its $4 fee as of Tuesday.
- Citigroup (NYSE:C), TD Bank (NYSE:TD), PNC Financial (NYSE:PNC) and a host of others, from September through this month, confirmed that they would not be imposing debit-card fees.
And while Occupy Wall Street had this movement’s back, it wasn’t the movement.
Hordes of customers from across the country threatened (and backed up the talk) to abandon ship for the friendlier waters of regional banks and credit unions. Others actually went to BofA branches and cut up their cards in plain view. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee, said it had 21,500 consumers pledge to remove their money from Bank of America.
While guerilla at times and organized at others, these peeved consumers’ piecemeal attacks were as subtle as a jackhammer and just as precise, not only cracking the will of BofA and its stubborn CEO Brian Moynihan, but forcing the rest of the sector to fall back in line or reaffirm their good faith.
Occupy Wall Street, which did offer its support to the PCCC, should take the hint and redraw its battle plans.
OWS is nearing its second month of existence and, regardless of aim, is a testament to Americans’ spirit. People for weeks on end have lived in tent encampments not only in New York but in various other cities throughout the U.S., and gotten up each day for more rallying cries, more protests, more shouts hoping to reach the ears of the “1 percent.” By Wednesday’s end, the movement will have taken its next big step when its Oakland brethren attempt to pull off a general strike — students and workers alike are summoned to downtown Oakland to “shut down the city.”
Powerful. Dramatic. But the closest Occupy Oakland can hope to touching Wall Street is to storm the doors at 1221 Broadway where S&P 500 company Clorox (NYSE:CL) resides.
Students walking out of school? Without pooh-poohing the mildly rebellious act of truancy, the gesture is an example of how misguided and symbolic the movement can be. A general strike threatens to hurt more than the 1%; the occupiers could damage the small businesses that one assumes OWS is fine with — businesses that have less room to navigate single-day losses of either manpower or sales.
Instead, Bank of America customers followed the right road to getting Wall Street’s big boys to listen, and it runs straight through corporate wallets. Kristen Christian, a 27-year-old Los Angeles art gallery owner, understood this when she used Facebook to organize “Bank Transfer Day,” set for Nov. 5, a nod to British rebel Guy Fawkes.
The premise of the event, which will be nationally “attended” by more than 70,000 people, is that consumers have banking choices and can move their collective money as a means of making their voices heard at banking HQ. Sound familiar? And while OWS has offered its support, Christian plainly states on Bank Transfer Day’s Facebook page that the movement was “neither inspired by, derived from nor organized by the Occupy Wall Street movement.” If it’s a request for due credit, it’s fair. While OWS was picketing, she was planning.
And preceding both Christian and the BofA revolters is Move Your Money, “a nonprofit campaign that encourages individuals and institutions to divest from the nation’s largest Wall Street banks and move to local financial institutions.” In its latest update, the organization boasts that since 2010, almost 10 million accounts have fled the nation’s largest banks. How much of that number can be attributed to the campaign itself is open for conjecture, but financial companies no doubt know what the loss of 10 million accounts looks like on a ledger.
While it might not be prudent to suggest Occupy Wall Street switch from protesting to holding hostages, in effect, that’s what it should do. Are CEOs’ compensation packages unfair? Single out a company and hold it hostage — by organizing a boycott large enough to make its board listen and demanding a fix. Angry at large banks? Put down the signs, “Like” Christian’s Facebook page and move your savings to Hill Valley Credit Union.
Corporate suits can walk around protestors, however persistent, for eternity. Keep taking cash out of their hands, though, and Moynihan & Co. will stop and listen.
As of this writing, Kyle Woodley did not own a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.