Monday, January 30, 2012

Bank Transfer Day Was Big

Banks and analysts have had time to add up the effects of Bank Transfer Day, and it is clear now that the movement was about as big as it seemed at the time. Roughly 1 million consumers and businesses moved checking or savings accounts from large commercial banks to credit unions and local community banks during a period of 7 to 8 weeks. A similar large number, though much harder to estimate, closed credit card accounts. Credit cards are harder to estimate and the impact harder to assess because not everyone who closes an active credit card account is able to pay it off immediately, and most of the credit card accounts that were canceled were cards that the holders weren’t using anyway.

A banking industry association might dismiss this as “an exceedingly tiny fragment” of the industry, but it is large almost any way you look at it. More than 1 out of 200 U.S. banking customers took part in some way. That makes Bank Transfer Day larger than all but a few banks. Large banks regularly spend billions of dollars in advertising and marketing trying to move market segments smaller than this.

More importantly, the movement put bank executives on notice. Bank of America acknowledged it had taken a hit when it reported its earnings, but whether they acknowledge it or not, all the large banks lost more than the usual number of customers. As a result, banks are starting to ask, “What will our customers think?” It’s a question that, for years, they hadn’t had to entertain.