Hard to believe, but it’s been about a year since the Occupy Wall Street protests began in Zuccotti Park. As we lead up to the quadrennial presidential election, it’s worth examining the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street to determine whether anything has really changed when it comes to banking.
The Occupy Wall Street movement sought out to decry the questionable practices of big banks, and undoubtedly its biggest response was seen with the creation of Bank Transfer Day. It was this tangible call to action that changed the public sentiment about the state of banking, and it was a $5 debit card fee imposed by Bank of America and other financial leaders that riled the masses against excessive account fees.
Occupy Wall Street Timeline
With a new voice and name to fall back on, Occupy Wall Street supporters kept their goals relatively broad, touching on issues like economic inequality, health care, and unemployment in addition to Bank Transfer Day.
While the Occupy protests went beyond the streets of New York, the soul of the movement still remained at Zuccotti Park during the height of Occupy Wall Street.
July 13, 2011: Radical-liberal magazine Adbusters makes the first call for a peaceful protest to occupy Wall Street.
August 2, 2011: New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts organizes with Occupy Wall Street supporters.
August 23, 2011: Hacktivist group Anonymous urges its supporters to join the demonstrations.
September 17, 2011: The first protests begin in Zuccotti Park.
September 27, 2011: Occupy protestors end the day by joining a rally of postal workers against budget cuts.
September 28, 2011: Transit Workers Union Local 100 voices support for the movement.
October 1, 2011: Over 700 arrests are made as the NYPD lures protesters onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
October 5, 2011: Zuccotti Park is occupied by 15,000 as unions throw their support behind the movement.
October 25, 2011: Iraq War vet Scott Olsen is severely injured at Occupy Oakland by a “less than lethal” police projectile.
November 15, 2011: On the 60th day of the occupation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg orders the park cleared at 1 a.m.
November 17, 2011: 30,000 assemble in Zuccotti Park.
January 1, 2012: Protesters make another attempt to re-occupy Zuccotti Park.
The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) found that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and Bank Transfer Day movement truly did make a lasting impact on how Americans bank. On November 5, 2011, the official date of Bank Transfer Day, CUNA reported that 40,000 new accounts were opened at credit unions across the country.
Were Occupy Wall Street Demands Met?
Despite the astounding numbers favoring credit unions, there are mixed opinions about whether Occupy Wall Street demands for change were truly answered or if the movement’s efforts were in vain.
In an interview with Go Banking Rates, Boston resident, Patrick St. John, said that he achieved a new level of enlightenment thanks to Occupy Wall Street, ultimately transferring his business to a credit union instead of sticking with his existing bank.
“My wife and I switched to a local credit union here in Boston thanks to the political education that Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston provided. We were originally with Bank of America, but then we started learning about their complicity in the growing mortgage and foreclosure scandal, largely via a workshop held at Occupy Wall Street.”
According to the CUNA, an impressive $4.5 billion in funds were transferred to credit unions in the five weeks leading up to Bank Transfer Day. And with over 400,000 Facebook likes to this day, it’s clear that the Occupy movement has not necessarily slowed down — rather, it has evolved.
Occupy Wall Street Going Forward
The Occupy Wall Street movement continued to grow beyond Bank Transfer Day into post-Occupy movements like “The 99 Percent Spring” and “Occupy the Ballot Box.” Ultimately, however, in terms of long-term change, there is no real evidence that suggests Occupy Wall Street has made significant change in how banks handle their customers’ bank accounts, aside from dropping debit account fees.
Individuals, like Dave Phillipson of CEO Space, still have doubts of Occupy Wall Street’s influence in changing how consumers bank. When asked what effect Occupy Wall Street had on his banking experience, Phillipson said, “Absolutely nothing. In fact, I’d be more likely to go opposite the Occupy movement, than with it.”
Determining whether or not Occupy Wall Street was successful at their mission is still a gray area.
In fact, arguments have been raised to go so far as to question the post-Bank Transfer Day data itself. Senior economist at the American Bankers Association, Keith Leggett, suggests that the information reported by local credit unions may be skewed.
“Maybe if you didn’t have an increase, you didn’t respond, so there was self selection,” Leggett argued in a Bank Tracker statement. “Those that reported are the ones who saw an increase, and this was used to extrapolate. Based on that, that leads to an overestimation.”
In addition to potentially biased data, there are many other considerations that influence to results of Occupy Wall Street’s Bank Transfer Day. For example, how many credit union accounts were opened but not deposited into using funds from an existing bank account, and how many Americans have merely split their business between their original bank and a new credit union account?
According to Leggett, it’ll take long-term data to truly grasp the movement’s success.
To date, the Occupy Wall Street has largely splintered into smaller groups, focused around specific issues. It will be interesting to learn how the time spent organizing around more quantitative matters will affect how Americans allocate their money.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Calonia.