Mapping The Real Deal: Banking Local
We are all faced with innumerable opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.
- Chuck Swindoll.
Why Did I Wait So Long?
Banking Local: I’d
Rather Switch than Fight
By Elianne Obadia
My life has been blessed by knowing Elianne and having her lead our prayer team. The core team at Solari comes together four times a week by phone to pray together and anyone who has joined us in prayer knows, Elianne tries to walk her talk. So it was truly frustrating to see such a dedicated and capable minister who lives by the highest ethical standards unaware of where her money was going and what it was doing in her name. My notion of “financial intimacy” is the idea that where our money goes and the actions that it finances are ethically the same as our own immediate actions – we are responsible. The process of watching Elianne integrating the same ethical standards that she applies to her personal conduct to her money has been a growing and learning experience for us both. I am so delighted that she has decided to share her story of changing banks in a first critical step of building a financial intimate life. What Elianne can do, you can do.
—Catherine Austin Fitts, Solari
Okay, there it was, and I had to face it. I was out of sync, not in alignment, a sore thumb in the evenhanded practicality of “Coming Clean.”  Ever since the first time I heard Catherine Austin Fitts speak, in December 2004, she had been talking about how it important it is to change to a local bank. Ten months later, even after Solari’s excellent audio seminar "Where Would Jesus Bank (and other good folks too)?" had been released, I was still feeding the Bank of America, commonly known as the B of A.
Oh, I had reasons. I had lots of them, similar to ones you might have, if your money is still in any of the financial institutions that are on the Solari Tapeworm 20 List.  None of those reasons was very good, but at least my intention seemed to be. I really was going to change banks . . . someday.
As it has been wisely observed, "An intention without a plan is wishful thinking." I had no plan, so nothing was going to change. It was hard to get mobilized. After all, Bank of America had been "good to me." At one point, my branch even had a woman banker who suggested a number of helpful changes in my accounts that no one else had ever said were possible. But she was too good to stay at B of A for long; one day only a couple of months afterward, I went in to ask her something and she was gone. The revolving door continued to bring in its crop of up-and-comers who, in a more or less desultory fashion, would perform acceptably and then presumably go on to better things as soon as they could manage to get out of this small-town branch.
In any case, it’s embarrassing how we become so reliant on the benefits offered by our oppressors, that we can tell ourselves that maybe the Big Guys are really not so bad. Or that as long we’re handling our life responsibly in other areas, it’s okay to just let this bank thing pass—or do it later, when it’s more convenient.
I would like to say that one morning I woke with a clear resolve in my heart, inspired by the powerful Solari audio seminars I had been privileged to be part of, and by Catherine’s personal support and coaching on the matter. What actually happened was a lot less noble than that. But, having come through to the other side, perhaps it is useful to tell my story for anyone who is facing the same situation. So here is the tale of how one woman, with a lot of help and grace, released herself from the sharp little teeth of the “tapeworm”  (yes, there is a kind of worm that actually has teeth). It turned out to be more easy than she ever could have imagined.
Excuses, excuses. .
As our association through the Solari prayer team became stronger, Catherine would periodically ask me if I’d changed banks. "Not yet," I’d say, squirming at my own hypocrisy . . . and the months passed. God knows the patience she had with my "reasons." Perhaps you are struggling with some of the same ones, so let’s take a look at some of the barriers that are common for people needing support to make the move.
- Dreading the
In my town (of about 7,200 people), B of A is the only bank. It is only four minutes by car from my house. Changing banks would mean having to drive to another town—at the best of times, 15 minutes away, and in traffic, up to 30. That was a royal pain, and I just didn’t want to do it. I’d also developed the miserable habit of waiting till the last minute to get to the bank, and dumping B of A would require me to order my life more sanely. The inconvenience was probably my strongest resistance.
- The what if’s: imagining the
I did this kind of imagining a lot before I made any real move to find out the answers so I could decide on a solid course of action. Was I facing actual problems that needed sober consideration or was I just catastrophizing? Would the answers point to reasonable tradeoffs for the advantages I’d be getting? Would I be able to intelligently assess my options and make a good choice? This is the territory where my mind meandered:
What if an earthquake or tsunami hit my area? Wouldn’t a local bank be wiped out and my money lost?
What if my new bank will be too far away for me to get my things out of my safety deposit box if I have to leave town in an emergency?
What if the bank is too new and doesn’t get enough customers to stay in business, or has some fatal, undetectable flaw? Will it fold, forcing me to start over?
What if I can’t get overdraft protection?
What if the process of finding a local bank is going to take too long, be a hassle, be too confusing?
What if I make a bad choice and I end up regretting that I changed banks?
There were others . . . but you get the idea.
One day, Catherine said to me flatly, "I don’t see how you can be the head of the Solari prayer team and still be at Bank of America after all this time."
If you know Catherine well, you know the moment when her direct challenge becomes your choice point. If you are wise, you see that what she is saying is true, and it is you who needs to move—sooner better than later, and NOW is the best.
In that moment, with my integrity on the line, I knew I was ready to make the commitment to close my accounts at B of A and find a local bank. I was anxious about the process, but I knew that I would keep that commitment. Everything that happened from that point on came out of that moment of decision.
Thus ended the first set of lessons:
Lesson #1: Never underestimate the positive motive force of Catherine Austin Fitts in a full-court press, challenging you to walk your talk.
Lesson #2: It is only when the discomfort of seeing my rationalizations became stronger than my resistance and inertia that change was possible. To move into positive action, I had to recognize and admit that my inaction was running counter to my deepest values.
Lesson #3: If you don’t ask questions, you won’t find out, and if you’re at all like me, you’ll just worry (needlessly).
Teamwork: getting support
I was ready to begin, but I wasn’t sure where to look; I hadn’t paid attention to other banks in the area. What became clear was that I needed a pal to consort with. I’m one of those people who, when faced with a change or a challenge, immediately scouts out who my allies in the flesh are. Catherine and her colleague at Solari, Christina Engelbart, were cheering me on during phone meetings, but I also wanted someone in the same situation in my community to go through this with me. Plus, I thought it would be a good way to get others involved in doing something good for themselves—and starve the tapeworm a bit more in the process.
The first friend I called about it had met Catherine around the same time I did, but we’d never talked about changing banks. When I told her what I was up to, she said, "You know, I’ve been wanting to do that too. Let’s do it together." BINGO! She mentioned a local bank she knew of, and said she’d stop by there after work that week and pick up some information for us. I said I’d do some looking on my end and get back to her, and suggested that we get together to listen to the Solari audio Seminar "Where Would Jesus Bank?".  I wanted to start the process with a better understanding of why I was making the change.
It took a while before my friend and I finally met, but it was an excellent way to spend an evening together. I took notes as we listened to the CD, and felt as though I was beginning to get a grasp of the principles involved. She hadn’t picked up those brochures, and I hadn’t done any real investigating as I had said I would, but at least we’d taken a specific action, and we felt some authentic forward motion.
A few days later, while driving home from some errands, I saw a bank in the next town over from mine that I had never noticed; its name, Tamalpais Bank, indicated that it was definitely a local operation. I took a last-minute swerve into the driveway, and, leaving my groceries in the car to melt, walked through the door. Less than five feet away was a bank officer’s desk. Seated behind it was—I am not making this up—my former banker from the B of A, whom I, of course, had not seen since she was replaced in the revolving-door employment scene at my old branch. She was helping a couple who were opening up new accounts, but she looked up, recognized me immediately, excused herself to her customers, and came over to greet me warmly.
That was my turning point. Whether or not this bank would end up being THE ONE, I felt the hand of grace (which others might call serendipity) over the entire venture. I had received what I felt was an indication that I was on the right track, and from that point on, I knew it was all going to work out.
Thus ended (delightfully) my next two lessons:
Lesson #4: Find yourself a partner (or two, or three) and start investigating possibilities together. Start by calling people you think are likely to be sympathetic to or already aligned with your goal. They’re probably looking for someone like you!
Lesson #5: Using the excellent tools provided by Solari, get a more complete understanding of just why it’s important to switch banks. Once I had that, I felt much more motivated to start my research out in the field.
Lesson #6: Fortuitous events (and people) can show up to help you on your search once you create a clear intention of where you want to go—expect the unexpected!
Entering the Promised Land
While I was waiting for my old-and-soon-to-be-new banker, Gisele, to finish serving her customers, a young woman came out from behind one of the three teller stations, introduced herself, and offered to show me around and tell me a bit about the bank. Of course, nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I was completely amazed and delighted by what I saw: a conference/lunch room that is made available in the evenings, free of charge, to local community organizations for their meetings; an adorable play area for kids with story books, toys, and a colorful I-Mac; a station with coffee and tea and two computers, not just for online banking but also for picking up your e-mail or getting onto the Web; a sitting area with finance magazines and a big screen that somehow managed to be nonintrusive as it displayed financial news programming; a small room behind the two officers’ desk for private meetings; a partitioned area for consultations, and the piece de resistance: a real, live, clean, big restroom!
Everything in the bank harmonized gracefully; the designers had managed to fit everything in without it seeming crowded. The space had been designed with the same care as a home would have been, and it just felt good to be there. The woman who showed me around was professional and friendly in a natural, easy way; I liked her immediately.
As soon as Gisele was finished with her customers, I sat down with her and we got caught up. She had left B of A to work at this bank and had become the branch manager. She said she was enjoying it tremendously, and it was obvious that she meant it. That afternoon, I got my first taste of what local banking is like, and I knew I was in. Gisele handed me a folder with all the information I would need, and as she reviewed their offerings—account types, loan programs, phone and online services, and so on—it was obvious that Tamalpais Bank is a customer-centered enterprise. I was valuable and important to them, and they were going to go out of their way to serve me.
Not only that, they were going out of their way to serve the local community. Their outreach program included making a donation to a community organization of my choice for any account I opened. Perks for recommending other customers included free organic produce from a local farm, products from other local businesses, or even a 1/2-hour massage from a local masseuse! It didn’t feel gimmicky; it felt generous. And the bank had been involved in various supportive services to local merchants and organizations since opening in 1991.
I discovered that I would get lifetime free personal checking, and free business checking for a year (with my first box of checks free for both accounts), and all the same online banking and bill-paying services that were available at B of A. This immediately meant a perpetual savings of $120 per year for the personal account, and a $144 savings for the business account for that first year. Not bad! I would be saving right off the bat. Plus, they offered a free financial planning consultation with a banker who came in periodically just for that purpose. Never heard of such a thing before!
I cannot tell you how good it felt to tell Gisele what had prompted me to leave Bank of America and seek out a local bank. I told her about Solari, about how I had met Catherine, and what a huge impact that had had on my understanding of how I was voting with my money. I think she was a little surprised at my enthusiasm, but she seemed to be genuinely interested when I offered her the CD "Where Would Jesus Bank (and other good folks too)?" and she promised to listen to it.
As Catherine had advised, I asked Gisele whether I could see the bank’s financials. She walked over to one of the customer computers with me and showed me how to access that information on the site of the bank’s holding company.
I took home all the information and went over it carefully. Catherine, bless her heart, reviewed the financials and said they looked fine. I spent some time on the Web site, and read about the bank officers, who all live locally. (On my initial visit, I had seen a picture of the CEO, a lively looking woman with an open smile, presenting community awards at an annual event; frankly, I loved the idea of banking at an institution with a woman at the top.) I considered whether I wanted to check out other banks, but it felt as though this one met my needs, plus it was the closest to my house. I decided to go for it. A few days later, I went back, and Gisele and I sat down and began the process of opening up my accounts.
So I had moved through a few more lessons:
Lesson # 7: With the right advice, it’s actually not daunting to go through the process of finding a local bank.
It’s easy to follow Solari’s advice on how to assess a local or regional bank. At the time I opened my accounts, the Web site page "Going Local With Your Bank" was not up yet, but you can now access it at http://www.solari.com/banks/ or by clicking on the “Coming Clean” button on the homepage, which will take you there. The resources include a printable handout on how to find a local bank; a five-minute video entitled, "A Voice That Counts"; Catherine’s article, " Where Would Jesus Bank (and other good folks too)?"; and info on the teleseminar by the same name.
Lesson #8: If a bank checks out well early in your search process, you might not have to examine every other bank in your area and compare them all. You may have been, like I was, shown to the right one immediately by pure grace—or good fortune, or good bank karma, or whatever else you attribute such occurrences to.
Bye-bye, B of A
As soon as I got my automatic deductions transferred to the new account, it was time to complete the process of switching by notifying B of A that I was leaving. I wanted something in writing to hand to a bank officer, stating my reasons but also my appreciation. In fact, I had received good service there on a number of occasions, had come to like the tellers, and did not want to bypass the opportunity to thank them.
I knew I would get bogged down and postpone if I had to write it all myself, so I asked Catherine to put together a draft, which I then tailored to fit my situation. (The letter appears at the end of this article, and permission is granted to use it, adapting it to fit your situation.) One day, it just felt like the right day to do it, so I marched in with five copies of the letter: one for whichever bank officer I chanced to get that day, and one each for the four tellers that I’d been doing business with. Attached to each of the teller letters was a thank you card that I’d written to commend that person on whatever their particular kindness or capacity had been that I’d appreciated. (You might find that to be overkill in your situation, but for me it just seemed that honoring individuals for good service is simple courtesy, and I wanted them to know that my choice to leave B of A had nothing to do with them personally or as employees.)
The conversation with the bank officer went smoothly and quickly. I told him I wanted to close my accounts; he politely asked why; I gave him a two-sentence summary about voting with my money and needing to put it in a place that I had a good conscience about, and told him that I’d written it all up in a letter. He said he would read it, and I think he meant it, and that he would give the copies to the tellers. At that time, I didn’t have a copy of the "Where Would Jesus Bank?" CD, because I’d given it to the branch manager at my new bank, but I told him about it, asked him whether he would like to hear it, got a yes, and delivered it personally a couple of weeks later.
It was a done deed!!!!
Which brings us happily to:
Lesson #9: It wasn’t difficult, complicated, or scary to be up front and just tell it straight. (And who knows? Maybe that guy will get a hint and at least be thinking about whether he really wants to continue working there.)
Does she live happily ever after?
I won’t tell you things are all perfect with my new bank, because they aren’t. I didn’t qualify for a line of credit that would provide overdraft protection, and whereas my old bank set up my savings accounts for this purpose, this bank doesn’t do that. The bank’s communication software with my ISP’s billing department didn’t work right at first, so my e-mail/Web access was cut off once until that got straightened out. I can’t use my aka, and so I have to remember to tell everyone who writes me a check to use my legal first name, which I never go by. My first box of checks didn’t come with my phone number on them, so they had to be redone. I have to have separate ATM cards for each account, instead of one that links them.
But none of these things has been a big deal. The benefits and strengths far outweigh the drawbacks. I love the way their online banking works, and the fact that I can see all my transactions since the opening of my accounts. The way their printed statements (with free check copies) are organized is far superior to what I had at B of A. I get postage-free envelopes to mail my deposits in, and so I have had to drive to the bank far less often than I thought I’d have to. And the people at the branch and on the customer service phone line are unfailingly patient, helpful, kind.
Gisele, my new banker, goes out of her way in every way she can to help me. I get PERSONAL service by a person who is really a person, who feels really good about the institution she is part of. I call her and she picks up the phone and takes care of whatever I need, and does it faithfully. One day I was sitting in my car in the downtown area of my neighborhood, endorsing a check to mail in for deposit. I had just noticed that it was made out in my aka, and realized that I would have to get the person to reissue and remail the check. At that moment, I looked up and saw Gisele across the street. I waved her over, we had a lovely chat about her son and his soccer game, and when I told her about my problem with the check, she said it was fine; she’d approve it and bring it to the bank herself to deposit it the next day. Done!
But even if I didn’t have every one of these conveniences, the change to a local bank is simply in alignment with what I understand now is needed for everyone to turn around the situation of the tapeworm dominating our lives and our economy. Thus:
Lesson #9: It’s not all about ME. My association with Solari has woken me up to the fact that those of us who are calling for change need to be willing to give up a little of what we think is so important, so that the whole world can live sanely. And what you end up getting is so much more than what you’ve given up.
Lesson #10: As we used to say back in Brooklyn, “You kin DOO it!!
That last is for any one of you reading this who has been doubting, or waiting, or felt overwhelmed, or just hasn’t known how to proceed. I want to encourage you all to just begin, and experience for yourself how the momentum builds in the most surprising and delightful ways.
My way of moving through this process was shaped by being more relationally oriented than task oriented. The personal connections I needed in order to move through my blocks were provided at every step. But I can see that for others, the switch to local banking will happen in ways that match their own style. Whatever your definition is of what Catherine calls “financial intimacy,” I believe the ingredients are all there to make this a positive experience for everybody.
However it happens for you, the more of us who make the switch, the more that will build confidence in others that it can be done much more easily than we thought. My guess is that more and more of us will be saying the same thing I did after making the switch: “This feels really good. Why did I wait so long?”
MY LETTER TO THE BANK OF AMERICA
Dear Branch Manager,
I would like to express my appreciation for your banking services. I have been a customer of Bank of America since May 1998. For most of this time, my home branch has been in _____, though I originally opened my four accounts in ______. Since living in _____, I have had the pleasure of being served by very kind and helpful tellers. Of note, I received superior service by _____, _____, _____, and _____ and have appreciated all their effort and friendliness. I have valued your banking products and services, especially the flexibility and convenience of online banking and the customer service phone line. I have had both my personal and business checking accounts with you, plus two savings accounts, and have rented a safety deposit box as well. The ministry I was formerly a part of opened up two checking accounts at Bank of America on my recommendation. Overall, with only some minor problems and frustrations regarding the ministry accounts, your customer support has been in the range I would call "superior."
So why would I choose to leave?
In recent years, I have become increasingly alarmed at the growing corruption in the financial system in this country. Responsible research that is easily verifiable by anyone who chooses to investigate will, I believe, reveal the following concerns:
- The U.S. banking and financial system is the global leader in money laundering of organized crime financial flows;
- The U.S. government, with the New York Federal Reserve as depository, is missing over $4 trillion between fiscal years 1998-2001;
- Large banks are fraudulently inducing students and working people to assume debt they can not afford to repay;
- Large banks are incurring greater risks, impacting depositors, borrowers and citizens, including the risks of derivatives and speculation;
- Enron-style offshore and off-balance sheet deals engineered by large banks are draining our job base and skimming our pension funds; and
- American households are experiencing record deficits while America’s largest banks are enjoying record profits.
- As private banks and their investors increasingly control our government bank accounts and financial policies, it falls to the private citizen and private markets to assume greater responsibility for ensuring that our financial system operates on an ethical and lawful basis.
- An important step private citizens can take is to decentralize our banking deposits and banking system away from large centrally controlled banks.
Consequently, I have made a decision to ‘vote with my money" by switching my banking business to Tamalpais Bank, a beautiful, very well-managed, locally owned, financially sound bank here in Marin County that is committed to community action on a number of fronts and supporting the local economy in innovative ways. Accordingly, I request that you close the following accounts as of the date of this letter:
(All four accounts listed)
To answer any questions you and your staff may have regarding my decision to "vote" with my bank deposits, I have enclosed a copy of "Where Would Jesus Bank (and other good folks too)?"—a Solari, Inc. audio seminar by Catherine Austin Fitts, a former managing director and member of the board of Dillon Read & Co., Inc (now part of UBS) and Assistant Secretary of Housing in the first Bush administration.
My very best wishes to you and your staff, and again I thank you.
___________, Vice President and Branch Manager/San Anselmo, Tamalpais Bank
___________, Chairman/ CEO, Tamalpais Bank
_____, _____, _____, _____ (Bank of America Branch tellers)
1 See “Coming Clean” at http://www.solari.com/campaign/index.htm
2 See http://www.solari.com/campaign/Tapeworm20.htm
3 See http://www.solari.com/realdeal.htm
4 See http://www.votesolari.com/solari/home.php?cat=20
Mapping The Real Deal is a column on Scoop supervised by Catherine Austin Fitts. Ms Fitts is the President of Solari, Inc. http://www.solari.com/. Ms. Fitts is the former Assistant Secretary of Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner during the first Bush Administration, a former managing director and member of the board of directors of Dillon Read & Co. Inc. and President of The Hamilton Securities Group, Inc.