The founder of Bank Transfer Day told Co-operative Congress how a tiny Facebook group went on to encourage six million people to move their money to Credit Unions across the US in less than year.
Kristen Christian had no idea about the alternative banking movement that would go on to change her life, but when the Bank of America made a decision that would financially harm the vulnerable and needy, it was the final straw.
The Bank of America created a fee for account holders to use a debit card who had less than $20,000 in their combined accounts. She said: “I’d come face to face to people who were playing the hand they’d be dealt, no amount of hard work would prevent these people living hand to mouth.
“A fee like this might mean they’d need to forgo a necessity, but why, so a CEO wouldn’t skip his holiday bonus?”
She immediately logged on to the internet and typed in the words: ‘alternative banking’. Through a Wikipedia page, she discovered the work of the co-operative banking sector – a system that out money back into the communities that it serves.
After her discover, Kristen explained: “I knew I had to take action to inform my social circle of the beneifts of doing business with a non for profit Credit Union.”
On October 4 2011, she reached out on the network used by most of her peer groups: Facebook and invited 500 people to Bank Transfer Day – with information about what she had learned.
The deadline was November 5, with echoes of Guy Fawkes somewhat intentional.
From there it snowballed, 500 to 3000, to interviews from national newspapers to TV appearances. The group kept growing, she had tapped into something that sparked fire in the American people. It became the first American mass movement organised entirely via social media.
“Looking back the changes came far more quickly than I could comprehend – I woke up with reporters calling all hours.”
However, it did not go so smoothly, there were threats on her safety, which forced her to close down her blossoming art gallery. As her old life began to disappear, people asked “why not delete the FB group and return to a normal life?”
It was then she called her mother, who said: “what would have happened if Rosa Parks had changed her mind and given up her seat?”
Kristen added: “Who knows when we might have had another chance for equality, for better or worse?”
“I live in a capitalist society – while it allows for them to choose how they operate, it also offers a duty for consumers to choose based on ethical reasons – in capitalism no business is too big to fail.”
As she began to talk about co-operative, her genuine passion warmed the audience. She said: “It is no surprise that this new generation has warmed to co-operatives. Co-ops will online see an increase in support from the young people and the communities they serve.”
She explained that co-operatives were “truly blessed to have this strong support network – to help others help themselves. It’s very painful for me to say, if the next generation of co-op leaders are not prepared for the work that lays ahead, your work will be for nothing.
“It reinforces a concept, that was nearly lost as we enter into the digital age – the idea of a community supporting each other – but simply it’s the right thing to do.”
Finally she said: “Co-ops are what this world needs now. This is your time, please don’t let it slip away.”