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Average Joes Moving Money From 'Fat Cat' Bankers

Bailouts and bonuses have many Americans frustrated with big banks — so fed up, that some are moving their money to community banks instead. The progressive Internet news site The Huffington Post is behind a movement called Move Your Money, which is gaining momentum online and on social media sites.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Many Americans have lost patience with big banks that have received big government bailouts and keep paying out huge bonuses. They feel these financial giants have lost touch with their customers. So now the Internet news site Huffington Post is trying to connect these people with their community banks. Chicago Public Radios Adriene Hill reports on how the campaign is going.

ADRIENE HILL: Terry Brower is moving his personal and business bank accounts from Wells Fargo to the much, much tinier Bank of Highwood-Fort Sheridan in the suburbs of Chicago.

Mr. TERRY BROWER: Its a community bank. And as you can see, the architecture doesnt look like a spaceship.

HILL: The bank tellers are quick to greet customers. Theres a coffee machine in the lobby, along with chocolate chip cookies.

Mr. BROWER: And we have dog biscuits. My dog has been here several times and he enjoys it very much.

HILL: But for Brower, the switch from his big bank was about more than niceties. It was about trusting the company he banks with to do right.

Mr. BROWER: If I were to have, for example, an issue with this bank, I would go to the bank manager. Shes only about 15 steps. Shes not in some office hiding under her desk on the 44th floor of a large building. Theyre accessible. Thats the difference. The difference is the decision-makers are accessible.

HILL: Nearly 30,000 Facebook fans around the country are making, or at least want their online friends to know theyre thinking of making, a similar switch, and saying bye-bye to the big four: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup.

Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post is spearheading a campaign called Move Your Money. It encourages people to move from the banking giants to smaller community banks.

Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (Editor-in-chief, Huffington Post): Theres a lot of anger about the way banks have acted. Theres a certain lack of empathy and concern.

(Soundbite of movie, Its a Wonderful Life)

Mr. LIONEL BARRYMORE (as Henry Potter): Did you put any real pressure on these people of yours to pay those mortgages?

Unidentied Man (Actor): (as character) Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.

Mr. BARRYMORE: (as Henry Potter) Then foreclose.

Mr. STEWART: (as character) I can't do that. These families have children.

Mr. BARRYMORE: Theyre not my children.

Unidentified Woman: Big cities across the country are seeing a big jump in the number of people losing their homes.

HILL: Move Your Money created this video that splices scenes from Its a Wonderful Life with tape from the current financial mess. Huffington says half the countrys zip codes have been plugged in to the Web sites community bank search engine.

Ms. HUFFINGTON: Oh, I think its already an enormous success. The fact that people are considering it. The fact that people are doing it. The fact that people are feeling empowered.

Professor MITCHELL PETERSEN (Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management): If I was a betting person, Id sort of bet against it.

HILL: Mitchell Petersen is a finance professor at Northwestern Universitys Kellogg School of Management. He says itd take a whole lot of money movers to have a noticeable economic effect.

Prof. PETERSEN: People are busy and they get really mad at things and they say Im going to go home and do something. And then they figure out how long its going to take to change the checking account and change all the electric payments. And I can either spend an hour with my kids or an hour doing that. And I don't know about them, but when I do that trade off, Ill just stay with the bank I have.

HILL: But, says Peterson, even without a massive number of banking customers switching to community banks, the campaign sends a political message. Elise Brooks is a spokesperson for the trade group that represents the largest banks.

Do the large banks - are they paying attention to this at all or is it really not on their radar?

Ms. ELISE BROOKS (Spokesperson, Financial Services Roundtable): Difficult to say. Im sure theyve heard of it. But, you know, I think their priority is just, you know, turning out the best possible product for their customers.

HILL: Its almost impossible to know just how many people are moving their money due to the campaign. In fact, moving your money is sort of like putting a bumper sticker on your car. While it might not hurt the big banks immediately, it doesnt look good for them. It also lets angry big bank customers express some of their frustrations.

For NPR News, Im Adriene Hill in Chicago.

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