Never Take “No” as an Answer

By Caitlin Dally
Student Organizer, University of San Francisco

Last week I had a troubling meeting with the University of San Francisco administration. I sat down with chief financial officer and the treasurer who had no real answer to my request for a change in the institution’s banking practices. To be clear, our proposal asked for the transfer of a portion if not all of the cash assets into a CU. We were hoping that this would allow us to make a bigger ask and collaborate further with the administration, but alas, I think it may have backfired on us. I want to share these points of opposition in a public space to be transparent about our campaign at USF. I hope that this “No”, or at least opposition to the idea of community investment, can be better addressed in the future of our movement across the nation.

Here is a list of the arguments the CFO made to me:

1.) Credit unions do not have the same capabilities to provide services that corporate banks can. For example, he gave the importance of international transaction (through the operating account), because we have a lot of international students who pay full tuition. He said that credit unions do not have the capacity to provide these services because it is too expensive to even have the computer operating systems that would manage such international transactions. I am sure there were more services that he was referring to, I was a bit confused because this didn't really make sense to me - I would think that living in this globalized world a CU would have the capacity to make an international transaction.

2.) USF already has diversified their banking. This was also confusing. Apparently, USF does not only bank with Bank of America, but also Chase (and probably others). He made a comment that about how $50 million is in Chase. I think Bank of America is working primarily with the operating account. He also mentioned that their cash assets fluctuate throughout the year, highs being in August (when everyone is paying for tuition) and lows being December. Part of this argument was based on the information I gathered from the annual report, stating $112 million in cash assets. He claimed that during low points in the year the university has only $50 million in cash assets.

3.) USF has considered credit unions before. In fact they had even discussed CDARs, the certificate of deposit account registry service, which is the most convenient way for safety-conscious investors to access FDIC insurance on multi-million-dollar CD deposits. But the treasurer said that they didn't trust them because the credit union is buying federally insured $250,000 deposits at other credit unions and they don't trust the other institutions that they don't have full choice/power over. The chief financial officer did not know anything about CDARs, which I found fairly surprising, since I was the only one in the room without a degree in finance.

4.) USF never keeps money in accounts permanently. The money would only be in the credit union for 1-5 years because they move the money regularly to get better interest rates. The cash would sit with a certain level of interest rate and they wouldn't want to be stuck in a lower interest rate because of being bound by 1- 5 years or because it is a credit union (versus a corporate bank).

Needless to say, I felt pretty defeated coming out of the meeting. I think that was part of their strategy. But I also came out knowing that this campaign has to happen, that the sense of urgency I feel, and others at my university feel, needs to be transferred to the administration. We must never take no as our answer.

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