Having banks on the brain

A person I respect — wise, patient and politically savvy — asked me credit unions today. It seems the excesses of the large, national banks, epitomized by their recent collective fee increases, led him to consider a credit union in place of the large national bank that he uses.

I mention this, not to suggest that everyone would join a credit union or that he is cheap or petulant, but to consider how we choose to give over power, in this case financial and social power. These banks are “too big to fail” both in their political power and their hold — as impressive, important institutions — in our own consciences. And so it’s easy for them (at least easier than what you and I) to extract government support, defense from industry and — at the end — profits from customers. But if you remember that there are alternatives to the banks — or Facebook, or particular retailers or even churches — even if the best alternative is “none of the above.” And once you realize you can live without something, you’re in a better position to choose how your money, effort and influence works to what you believe in. A simple thought, but worth repeating. And one of the reasons I buy American-made clothing and don’t eat animals.

For the record, if you live, work, study or worship in the District of Columbia — one of their membership classification — I can recommend Signal Financial Federal Credit Union. And here’s my last blog post on local credit unions, at the beginning (2008) of the current economic crisis. Read it for the comments.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. We switched to a credit union a few years back when we couldn’t stand Wells Fargo anymore. We’ve been quite happy, and it does give us a sense that the scale of the organization is easier to comprehend–and influence.

  2. I’ve belonged to Pentagon Federal for years, and just enrolled my daughter in the one at U of Wisc. Small isn’t necessarily the virtue here. Virtual on-line banking when ever and where ever is the benefit, and what I look for. It’s really online vs brick and mortar that may be the real diff. On a related note, I’ve been trying to get my Church to go electronic for pledges but they won’t because the local bank gives them good deals. I think sometime the convienance of getting people to give electronically (and on schedule) is going to outway whatever the brick and mortar banks offer.

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