American culture, dominated by the influence of wealthy advertising, teaches its young people to look to Wall Street for help — even if the series of recent fiscal catastrophes paints major banking corporations in a wholly corrupt light. Is there a way to reach fiscal security without going down Wall Street?
Occupy Wall Street says there is, and has the directions to get you there. On September 17, at their two-year anniversary action in Zuccotti Park, the OWS Alternative Banking Group released Occupy Finance: a free, independently published guidebook to “fighting our way out of the financial maze.” The book details the history of the current economic crisis, the problems that Wall Street poses for consumers, and offers a host of resources and models moving forward for engaging alternatives to major banking corporations.
But why not turn to big banks? They’re shiny, they’re popular, they’re convenient.
For one, the current student debt crisis has left many young Americans increasingly skeptical of big finance, whether it be in the form of major private banks or government lenders. If you’ve been given a loan of tens of thousands of dollars to get yourself a college degree in a stagnant job market, it’s tough to feel confident turning over your finances to those who are profiting off of your inability to pay it off.
The case against big banks is two-sided: it’s bad for society, and it’s bad for the individual. Major banking corporations’ predatory lending and investment cheats have had a huge hand in the failing U.S. economy that is crippling new job-seekers — keep giving them your money, you’ll finance them to take more of it in the long run. Bank of America and its peers charge huge overdraft fees and have elaborate hoop-schemes designed to trap new clients and wring them for profit. The pluses, again? They’re shiny, they’re popular, they’re convenient — which makes them all the more sinister.
Occupy Finance, in addition to offering a discussion of the mechanics of big finance and other underhanded ways banks steal from the vulnerable, challenges myths that sustain the financial sector and offers guidance for managing your money and “starting to re-build what’s ours” by rethinking the system at large.
Credit unions and community banks have already emerged as viable alternatives to major banking corporations. Keeping your money in a neighborhood bank not only benefits your community by sustaining local growth, but you don’t sacrifice most of the convenience of bigger institutions. You shouldn’t have trouble finding an ATM in your local area, and many credit unions and well as financial services networks will refund most or all ATM fees. The Move Your Money projects has developed a locator tool to help you find and research a community bank or credit union in your area.
If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, Occupy Finance recommends that you look into mobile banking — and other so-called “consumer and business tech applications” — as a flexible alternative to major financial systems. Perhaps the most common example is Square, a credit card reader and program for smartphones which streamlines credit card payments without bringing in high costs normally associated with credit charging devices. For non-entrepreneurs, though, there are also several peer-to-peer lending programs like Splitwise or Venmo that can help independently track personal financial transactions (particularly useful for college students, who are often stuck determining rent or splitting bills with little cash on hand).
Public banking is a model that has been adopted by several labor parties advocating for financial reform. The Alternative Banking Group challenges the American preconception that capitalistic competition between banks works out best for us in the end, and notes that “the current system is no longer able to address many of our financial and social problems.” They point instead to One PacificCoast Bank, Bremer Bank, and the Bank of North Dakota, three successful state banks that have been able to generate revenue (which goes right back to the citizens) as well as sustainably manage personal finances.
Dozens of states have taken steps towards public banking. It’s true, and Occupy Finance admits, that public banking isn’t a universal answer nor is it perfect for every locality — but it is an alternative to the literally, and ethically, bankrupt system we’re currently caught up in.