BUSINESS
03/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Move Your Money: Where Populist Fervor Meets Friendly Faces

Huge bonuses to bank executives, casino-style financial practices and millions of unreturned stimulus dollars have made many consumers angry at the nation's biggest banks and looking for a way out.

Daniel Mica knows just where they should go. The president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association said in an interview with the Huffington Post that he hopes "the cold shock-wave" of populist fervor sweeps the financial system and leads customers to credit unions.

And consumers will find that switching won't just be an effective protest, it will also be a change for the better, he says. "At a credit union they treat [you] like a person, not a number," Mica said, because smaller financial institutions don't have the "dismissive arrogance" of the largest banks.

Indeed, more and more people are joining credit unions every day. Mica said that over the last year credit unions have had a two percent growth rate -- higher than the population rate, and the quickest pace that credit unions have seen in a decade -- and searches to find local credit unions have tripled in recent weeks.

The move reflects a growing disillusionment with the nation's largest banks, a sentiment that has been captured by the Move Your Money campaign, which urges people to close their accounts with the six big banks that engaged in sophisticated financial maneuvers and move to a safe and solvent community bank or credit union. It urges people fed up with the big banking system to take politics into their own hands.

It's "the beginnings of people voting with their feet and their wallets and taking money out of banks," Mica said. "And we hear stories [like that] every single day."

He can appreciate the movement's grassroots growth. "It's not just Democrat-Republican, I think that's clear," he added. "I travel the country on behalf of credit unions. We have 93 million members. I've been to every state in the United States multiple times and I listen to Main Street every single day. People are very upset. We talk finance, we talk pocketbook issues, and they're very concerned." He's praised credit unions on YouTube as well.

As to those stuck with the big banks because of their mortgages? "What they need to do is pick up the phone or get on a website and go to their local credit union," he said, "and ask if someone will come down and talk to them about moving their mortgage and what they can and can't do."

The movement is not about destroying the big banks in general, he said; more like putting them in their place: "This country needs a strong financial system including banks and credit unions, but when banks become impervious to public concerns, to the crying needs of America's economy and go off on their own, they need to have their hands slapped and they need to be redirected. We didn't have this situation for a long time in this country, but they became so powerful with so much money that they were able to get their way in Congress and with the regulators for the past dozen years, that they've gotten out of control. And this is all about getting them back in the box and serving America and consumers, not just themselves."

Unlike banks, credit unions are not-for-profit enterprises owned by their members. They pride themselves on lower loan rates and better savings rates, but membership is not open to everyone (though the vast majority of people probably can find a credit union for them, qualifications vary and can be based on employment, residence, religion or some other category -- people should check with their local credit to see if they are eligible). Like banks, they are insured by the federal government (the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund). People can use the CUNA's website to find nearby institutions.

"We'll always find a complaint here and there about a credit union, but 99.9 out of 100 people are happy to put a bumper sticker on their car that says 'I love my credit union,'" he laughed. "That is not the case about banks."