We have the collective weaponry to fight the big-bank dragon

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Holy moly, the people stared into the eye of the dragon … and the dragon blinked.

Following Bank of America’s recent announcement to start charging a $5 fee when customers use their debit card, customers retaliated with the only weapon they have: their money.

In the wake of customer uproar as other large banks like Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase announced similar debit-card fees, and then backpedalled over the weekend, Bank of America reluctantly (I’m sure) announced on Tuesday that it was abandoning the debit-card fee scheme. Not out of any sense of decency, mind you, but because BofA customers were finally so furious and fed up that they yanked their money out of BofA and deposited it elsewhere.

That got BofA’s attention. Wall Street Occupiers? BofA execs probably have a good chuckle over their morning coffee about those pathetic peons gathered on the sidewalks down below, whining about money and unemployment and the unfairness of it all. Well, not all. Only 99 percent. But when enough pathetic peons trotted their money out the door in protest, the BofA CEOs must’ve splurted their coffee all over their Wall Street Journals. That got their attention. And, miracle of miracles, the behemoth backed down and cancelled its mini-extortion plan.

According to a Nov. 1 story on the New York Times website, David Darnell, co-chief operating officer at Bank of America, stated, “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”

The story notes, “The revenue the bank expected to raise from the debit fee was not worth the damage to its reputation.” But, it’s not really a consumer victory just yet. The story further notes that BofA plans to regroup and collect the profit it anticipated from the debit fees in less obvious ways: “Now that all the large banks have decided not to impose the debit fee, experts said, they will find other ways to fill the hole.

“ ‘Those revenues paid for a lot of things,’ said Joe Gillen, chief executive of Pinnacle Financial Strategies, a bank consultant in Houston. Now, he said, consumers can expect more fees over time. ‘It will be slow and gradual, but they will bring those revenues back.’ ”

Slow and gradual. Like putting a frog in a pot of water and turning up the heat slowly until the frog boils to death because it can’t detect the rising temperature.

If you aren’t mad yet, get a load of what comes next: “What (Gillen) said was most frustrating, however, was that the banks were penalized for their openness.”

Really? That’s the most frustrating thing, Mr. Gillen? That when the big banks were finally so bold as to just shove the gun in our faces rather than steal from us out the back door, that we objected? Unbelievable. But not quite as unbelievable as what Gillen openly admits next: “ ‘The banks are going to have to hide the fees and the customers will still have to pay them.’ ”

Have to pay them. Have to. Why aren’t you furious yet? Why aren’t you marching down to close your big bank account right now? Because the war’s not over yet. Consumers won this particular battle, but in the end, the Big Banks will have their chunk of financial hide from their customers. Unless they lose those customers entirely.

In case you missed it, Saturday was “Bank Transfer Day,” an effort to motivate people to transfer their money out of big banks and into small neighborhood banks, where not only can you talk to a real live person, you won’t be charged to do so.

Yes, the big banks are charging fees for that too. Unless you pay a monthly fee or sign up for a certain type of checking account that gives you the privilege of actual customer service.

I’ll tell you what — the first time my bank charges me to talk to a teller, I’ll make use of that fee to say, “I’d like to withdraw all my money and close my account.”

You see how insidious it is? The banks charge you a fee to speak to a teller, and once you’ve been retrained to use your debit card exclusively, they attempt to collect a fee each time you do.

Bank Transfer Day isn’t a unique idea. The “Move Your Money” campaign emerged months ago in response to the TARP bailouts and the “too big to fail” meme, all against the backdrop of an avalanche of home foreclosures on average Americans. The Move Your Money website (moveyourmoneyproject.org) says, among other things, “Invest in Main Street, not Wall Street” — very similar to “Occupy Main Street, not Wall Street.” In other words, fight the corporate persons and big banks by spending your money at local shops and paying with cash — a one-two punch to the One Percent.

Still need motivation? Go to the Move Your Money website and watch the clip of “It’s a Wonderful Life” interspersed with real life exploitation of average Americans and the TARP bailouts. If that doesn’t make you burn with motivation, I don’t know what will, unless it’s the realization that that if enough of us act together, we can, and will, and moreover, did make the dragon blink.

Sure, you can get out on the streets with the Occupy protestors, but that only makes the dragon cranky. Move your money, and you’ll smack the dragon across the snout and make it pay attention. We can, collectively, wield Excalibur. It’s right there in our wallets.

— Email Debra at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.comwww.edebra.com and www.ipinion.com

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