Let’s Move it All! : Why Universities and Other Institutions Should Participate in Bank Transfer Movement

by Caitlin Dally, University of San Francisco
A version of this article appeared earlier this week in the Huffington Post.

I am a senior at the University of San Francisco, but the greater part of my youth was spent in small town, rural-esque, quaint community on an island off of Seattle, Vashon Island.  When my family first moved to Vashon, the small business community was flourishing; local grocers, restaurants, realty offices, a movie theater, etc.  Everything was home grown – including one of my favorite cafés Fred’s Home Grown.  Fred’s is now boarded up, like most of Vashon’s retail space is available for rent because of its inability to maintain business in our current economy.  Not only did Fred’s close, my mother’s interior design business and art gallery, which served as a space for community was forced to close too. The importance and value of local businesses are vital to defining and creating a sense of community.  Outside of the old hardware store, now a restaurant, hangs a sign “Today’s special, so is tomorrow”.  Can tomorrow be special without independent and local businesses?

Recently it appears that the American public has recognized the correlation of the demise of such endearing small businesses with the prevalence of corporate banking institutions.  When a 27-year-old Los Angeles resident made a Facebook event inviting her friends to move their money into credit unions and other responsible financial institutions, she had no idea that her action would go viral. Together, according to estimates, one million Americans have participated in the bank transfer movement.  These citizens moved their money, stating that they would no longer support too-big-to-fail banks but rather invest in institutions, which prioritize community over profit.

Bank transfer day was just one day in a movement towards keeping tomorrow special, to create a better financial future for Americans. I was among many college students who were inspired to participate in bank transfer day by moving their money into credit unions.  We choose to support credit unions, and community development financial institutions because they function differently from corporate banks.  The customer of a credit union is a member who acts like share holder and plays a role in the bank’s decision making. Credit unions often offer higher rates for deposits, lower costs for loans and reduced fees. But most importantly, credit unions work for these small businesses and community organizations offering manageable business loans and fair and maintainable mortgage rates.

This past summer I started working for the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC) because I want to think globally, and act locally.  At REC, we work to foster social and environmental change by making responsible investment a common practice amongst colleges and universities.  I have realized that the bank transfer movement is not just about the action that people need to take individually by independently investing their money in responsible financial institutions.  For it to be truly successful institutions must participate alongside citizens.

Often, I look at my bank account balance and it is pretty dismal.  I know as a college student there’s not much money in my personal checking account.  But when I imagine how much money a university possibly has in the bank, it seems infinitely.  We are looking at millions, if not billions of dollars. The University of San Francisco alone has $213 million in its endowment. These institutions need to start taking their banking decisions seriously.  There is no time like the present to build off of the success of Bank Transfer Day. Let’s demand that the institutions, which we are affiliated with, invest in responsible financial institutions.

Most universities have a candy coated, sweet pitch for prospective students and their parents. My university and many other Jesuit institutions uphold a great standard in their commitment to fighting for social justice.  Is investing in corporate banks, which foreclose on families who they purposefully target with sub-prime mortgage loans, socially just?  I don’t think an institution claiming faith in social justice can maintain their reputation while supporting these current corporate financial institutions.  It is imperative that we ask our universities and institutions to act responsibly, to have the maximum possible impact possible. And the time is now.

Let’s move our money and keep tomorrow special.

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