Marylanders joining Move Your Money campaign

March 07, 2010|By Eileen Ambrose Personal finance

A nationwide campaign to stick it to the big banks seems to have caught on with consumers who are withdrawing their money and moving on.

Huffington Post's Move Your Money campaign has urged consumers for weeks to abandon banking giants that benefited from taxpayer bailouts but remain reluctant to lend. The campaign tells depositors to switch to small banks or credit unions that weren't involved in the risky practices that caused the financial crisis.

Not only do some Marylanders appear to be heeding that call, but now some bigger customers are looking to make a break with the megabanks.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would essentially give state-chartered banks an edge when bidding to serve state agencies or local governments.

Del. Bill Frick, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, says he's been frustrated watching giant out-of-state banks gouge Marylanders with high fees and rate increases.

"Why do we turn around and give them our money on state contracts?" he says. "Why do we want our state dollars going into Wall Street bonuses instead of local small business loans?"

People - and institutions - don't switch banks easily. Individuals often choose an institution because it's nearby or offers attractive interest rates. Once they get their box of checks and set up direct deposit, inertia sets in. Many never change banks again unless they move. For institutions, the process can be much more complicated.

While you should switch banks only if it makes financial sense, the Move Your Money campaign does nudge us to review our relationship with banks. That's something all of us should do more regularly.

"As consumers, we have choices, and we can pursue better deals. And we can vote with our feet," says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com.

Some Marylanders have voted.

Hamilton Federal Bank in Baltimore has seen a surge in deposits. Deposits usually grow by $500,000 or $600,000 per month. In the first two months of this year, they rose $3.5 million.

"This year, it's been phenomenal," says President Robert DeAlmeida. Some of that business comes from consumers angry at the big banks, but it also can be attributed to paltry rates paid by the giants and market-wary investors pulling money out of stocks, he says.

Arundel Federal Savings Bank credits the campaign for at least one new customer who moved six figures from a mega-institution to the Glen Burnie-based lender.

"We love it, of course," says Ed Lehwald, marketing director of Arundel Federal.

Community banks say they can compete with the big guys on rates and products, but the small-lender advantage is the personal touch.

"People are tired of feeling they are lost in a bureaucracy. And when they come into our branches, we know their names, and their kids' names and their dogs' names," says Jeff Barrett, a vice president of Rosedale Federal Savings & Loan Association.

Rosedale and Arundel Federal don't sell their mortgages to other institutions. "If there is a problem, there is a person here you can talk to, and you can stay until it's solved," Barrett says.

Executives at Baltimore-based Rosedale, awarded top marks by TheStreet.com for safety, started noticing an uptick in customers after regulators seized IndyMac Bank in 2008.

Credit unions also are fans of the Move Your Money campaign, and some have started using the theme in their marketing, says Mark Wolff, spokesman with the Credit Union National Association.

Wallace Farmer, a Baltimore resident, supports the switch to small lenders, saying some banks have become too big.

"The government isn't shrinking them, but we should be shrinking them by taking our money out of them," he says.

Farmer made the move a couple of years ago. He says his regional bank wasn't interested in helping him improve his credit so he could buy a house, so he joined a credit union at work.

"They said, 'We can help you with that.' and they did," he says. He has since bought a car and a house.

States, too, are growing frustrated with big banks.

The legislation proposed in Maryland would give preference to state-chartered banks bidding for business with the state or local governments.

A similar bill was introduced in New Mexico, although it didn't get through the legislature during this year's regular session.

The Maryland Bankers Association opposes the bill. It's unfair to put nationally chartered banks that are strong supporters of Maryland communities at a disadvantage in bidding, says Kathleen Murphy, president of the trade group.

And some small banks don't seem keen on joining the bidding process anyway.

"I don't have the resources to put together a 40-page proposal to win state funds," says Mike Menzies, president of Easton Bank and Trust Co. and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

For consumers, the decision of where to bank should depend on the institution's products and rates, location and service.

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