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Millions of Americans Move Their Money Out of the Big Banks to Community Banks and Credit Unions

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More than 600,000 U.S. consumers have moved their money from big banks to community banks or credit unions, thanks to the much-publicized Bank Transfer Day last fall, according to an analysis released by Javelin Strategy & Research.

The grassroots campaign to get people to shift out of big banks capitalized on the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement, and picked up further momentum from a Bank of America plan in September to charge customers a $5 per month debit card fee. After the bank dropped this plan ahead of Bank Transfer Day on November 5, an exit from big banks continued, sparked by Bank Transfer Day's Facebook campaign. (More than 60,000 have "liked" the page.)

"It was a meaningful movement of people from big banks into small community banks and credit unions, but it wasn't a huge number by any stretch," said Jim Van Dyke, founder of Javelin, a research and consulting company which on Thursday released a data-based analysis of the impact of the movement.

Nevertheless, he said, "It was quite a feat. I don't think we'll see it repeated any time soon."

Historically, people don't switch banks easily, even if they are unhappy, Van Dyke says. Consumers have strong ties to their banks because of direct deposit, automated bill payments and habit -- making change more complex than simply going someplace else.

"Individuals are really resistant to moving their money out of banks," Van Dyke says, noting that Javelin has tracked customer behavior at banks through a large sample survey since 2003. "The difference between what they say and what they do is really different."

American Bankers Association spokeswoman Carol Kaplan says the numbers of those fleeing big banks should be kept in perspective.

"While these 600,000 adults represent an exceedingly tiny fragment of the hundreds of millions of Americans with bank accounts, the industry takes consumer sentiment seriously... Consumers have a wealth of choice and banks have always been in favor of competition, regardless of where it comes from," she says.