Keep your money in Maine

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 29, 2011

Pinkham says that while the MBA members have "varying interests, diverse as the geography of our state," MBA opposition to the bill stemmed from a belief that a state bank would be unnecessary or even harmful for Maine's economy.

Still, anti-Wall Street activists see resistance to the state bank idea as part of an effort to consolidate economic power among an elite few. So says Catherine Austin Fitts, president of Solari, Inc., a progressive investment company based in Tennessee.

"What I see is that the government is making it very difficult for small banks to survive, and making it very easy for big banks to buy them up," Fitts says. "It's part of a regulatory effort to make it harder for small banks to do what they do. To slam down on the little guys."


Do it yourself

There are other ways to chip away at big-bank influence.

The Move Your Money campaign was launched in the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2008. A group of friends, outraged that so-called "Too Big to Fail" banks were getting bailouts while community banks were struggling to stay open (or not get gobbled up by Goliaths), created moveyourmoneyproject.org, where visitors can plug their zip code into an online database and find a list of community banks in their area.

In March, Move Your Money trumpeted the findings of Moebs Services, an economic research firm based in Illinois: more than 4 million accounts moved in 2010; Bank of America alone lost more than 400,000 accounts last year; and between 7 million and 9 million more big-bank accounts will move by the end of 2011. The Moebs study predicted that the mass exodus from huge banks will plateau in 2012 at between 13 million and 17 million accounts total.

"It makes sense," says Sara Ackerman, national MYM project coordinator. "Why are we funding the institutions that got us into this mess?"

That said, while organizers cite encouraging statistics, and there has been some evidence of growth in the market share of credit unions (wondering what a credit union actually is? see sidebar, "Credit Union 101"), the Move Your Money message may not be reaching enough people.

"I don't think it's had as great an impact as it needs to have," says Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the ILSR and a Portland resident.

Consider the local numbers: FDIC statistics show that in Cumberland County, more than 80 percent of the market share of deposits is in TD Bank, Key Bank, or Bank of America. (It's true that TD Bank is headquartered here in Maine, but it's also one of the 10 largest banks in the United States and is owned by TD Bank Financial Group in Toronto, Canada.)

"One of the things we're trying to do is start local Move Your Money campaigns," Mitchell says, explaining that people need evidence that their action will be more than just a drop in the bucket.

After all, moving your money isn't the same as switching grocery stores. It requires planning, and paperwork, and time. (Read my chronicles of switching over from Bank of America to a community bank over the next few weeks online at thePhoenix.com/AboutTown.)

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