Like the state of New Mexico, I bank at Bank of America.
I don’t know what the government’s excuse is, but I got fed up with faceless bureaucracy a long time ago and switched from First Interstate to Sunwest. It wasn’t the most intimate New Mexico bank, but it had been started by a guy named Ike who used to run a restaurant in Santa Fe, so it was good enough for me. The staff was friendly and knew the customers by name and vice versa.
Then one day, as I was swinging by to make a deposit, a small work crew was changing the sign. It was no longer Sunwest, but something else. I almost bolted like a rabbit, but by then I knew the staff at my branch so well—and they assured me they’d all be staying on—that I just kind of put it off.
A couple of years later the sign was changed once again. Bank of America had moved in. Again I wanted to bolt but, again, the staff remained and nothing really changed regarding my banking experience. Sure, I see the high turnover rate among the Bank of America managers who occupy the corner office, but I never deal with those people. I deal with the same people I’ve been dealing with for almost 20 years. So, even though Bank of America as a company makes me vomit a little bit in my deposit envelope, the people who staff my branch represent a long-standing personal relationship to me rather than an evil corporation. So it’s been easy to let things slide.
When bloggers Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson announced a New Year’s resolution “movement”—using a short movie made by Eugene Jarecki—to convince people to transfer funds to local banks, I came back out of my slumber. Why do I spend all of my time buying from local businesses and eating local food, only to store the money I use to make those local purchases with an abominable, non-local bank?
I appreciate the old Sunwest staff keeping their jobs throughout all the changes, and I’ll miss them and the familiarity we share. But a painful breakup doesn’t necessarily mean there’s animosity; it just means it’s time for some growth.
State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, felt the same way after watching the Move Your Money movie and realized that, as a lawmaker, he could go one step further and push the state’s money toward local banks. HB 66—cosponsored by Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Bernalillo—proposes that New Mexico’s 1.4 billion cash account—the state’s liquid checking power—be moved from Bank of America to local New Mexico banks.
It’s a bold move—obvious in hindsight, but genius in its timely introduction. Egolf’s bill was scheduled to go before the House Business & Industry Committee on Feb. 2, after SFR’s press deadline. It’s anyone’s guess where the bill will end up by the close of the session. While there’s been no strong public opposition to the proposal, we can be sure that Bank of America isn’t rolling over on a $1.4 billion deposit—it just isn’t yet clear how the bank will focus lobbying efforts or legal maneuvers to prevent the move. Also, tossing that amount of money into the local banking industry is a lot like carpet bombing the state. It’s so much money, and then there are so many bonding and insurance subtleties, and so much potential for favoritism and other wealth-inspired weirdness that the process needs to be painstakingly considered.
Fortunately, HB 66 is not cavalier crusade. The bill is a well-considered piece of legislation and its approval would trigger a slate of feasibility studies and the development of a sound process.
There are a lot of small advantages to banking with a faceless megacorporation: lots of ATM machines, digital check scanning for deposits, convenient locations, branches throughout the country or the world, well-integrated online banking systems, etc. In considering my own switch, I want to find a bank with a good, secure and robust system for managing accounts online. I want to find a bank that is a proactive lender in the community and one that is able to define wealth as an asset beyond a number in a column. I want to find a bank that has fresh-made truffles at the counter instead of stale lollipops.
Finding the right services for the state of New Mexico among local banks is considerably more difficult, but it’s a move that has to be made. It’s also just a starting point. Approval of HB 66 would be a mandate to poke into how deposits with the Public Regulation Commission are held and how money is treated, leveraged and loaned throughout the state government. It would be an open door for counties and municipalities to follow suit.
And, of course, if local banks were in a position to vie for a sudden windfall in deposits, those same banks should be bound to invest in local entrepreneurial ventures. The potential economic and societal benefit from rearranging regional financial relationships is massive.
When big banks started to fail and the economy burst into flames and everything teetered on the brink, a lot of progressive pundits said a necessary correction was upon us. But so far we haven’t seen any correction of big-bank behavior—we’ve only seen a scramble to return to the status quo. Egolf’s banking bill, however, reminds us that leadership can be found in local lawmaking.
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