This week’s biggest banking story took place last week. The fallout from Bank Transfer Day may be felt for months to come. Customers are becoming more aware of their choices, and banks are on the defense.

On November 5th, last Saturday, thousands of consumers took their money out of their corporate bank accounts and transferred it to credit unions. By the Credit Union National Association’s estimate, credit unions picked up 40,000 new customers on Saturday alone. This represents $80 million in new deposits for the non-profit banks — not an insignificant gain!

According to another estimate from CUNA, credit unions took on 650,000 new customers in the days leading up to Bank Transfer Day, totaling $4.5 billion in deposits. 70 percent of credit unions saw their membership grow in the last month, with most of the growth concentrated in the bigger credit unions, specifically those with more than $100 million in assets. CUNA estimates that customers will save $70 a year by making the move.

Banks are shedding customers like it’s going out of style. One would imagine this would be a cause for alarm in banking — simultaneous movements to boycott an industry and to introduce radical regulations ought to spell trouble. That’s not what banks think, though!

The Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor both ran stories this week based around the notion that banks won’t miss any of the customers that left. Why? Because both the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor (and banks) assume that only low-net-worth individuals would be leaving their big banks. And small bank accounts, we learned, are not that profitable for banks to service — especially when they find it difficult to lend!

But according to a more in-depth study, conducted by consulting firm cg42, big banks stand to lose a whole lot more than $4.5 billion in deposits. Apparently, their reputation among their customer base is so thoroughly tarnished that the ten biggest U.S. banks could collectively shed $185 billion in deposits over the next year if they don’t do more to please their customers. The bigger the bank is, the more deposits they could lose, according to the survey.

It might take months to truly grasp what Bank Transfer Day meant for banks, credit unions, and consumers. For now, it looks like banks want to play the spurned lover card — “We never wanted you anyway!” — but they might come crawling back if customers continue to wake up to the fact that they don’t need to spend the rest of their lives with Chase, BofA, or Wells Fargo.

Willy Staley

Willy Staley is a staff writer and columnist for His columns focus on banking, monetary policy and culture.