For some time now, Occupy Wall Street supporters — as well as those watching the larger debate over inequality and economic justice that’s underway — have been closely watching the banks’ handling of the uproar over fee increases for debit card holders to gauge whether the protests and the changed atmosophere are having an impact.
Today, in a move that the protest’s supporters will undoubtedly claim as a big victory, Bank of America — under fire from consumers — announced that it is nixing its plan to charge $5 a month for purchases with debit cards. Here’s the bank’s statement:
“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” said David Darnell, co-chief operating officer. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”
This comes after several other banks nixed similar fees.
So what’s the connection between this and Occupy Wall Street? As David Dayen notes, the anger over the proposed fees, combined with the protests, have led to several companion movements, such as National Bank Transfer day. Dayen speculates that the protests “revitalized a citizen’s movement to take money out of the large Wall Street banks and to put it into community banks or credit unions.”
In terms of today’s news, I just got off the phone with a senior banking official familiar with the discussions about Bank of America’s decision. This official said there was no direct correlation between the protests and the decision, and argued that the move by other banks to back off the fees left BoA no choice. But the official acknowledged that the atmosphere has been changed in a palpable way by the protests and by media coverage of them. Obama and leading Dems have aligned themselves with the shift in public mood by also hammering BoA.
“It’s all connected,” the official said. “There are a lot of issues out there that have added to the conversation. If you take a lot of customer complaints, and you add on to it something along the lines of the protest, it’s amplified the concerns. From our perspective it has clearly amplified things. It has amplified the concerns our customers have. It’s heightened the conversation. It has impacted all the banks.”
Even if there’s no clear evidence Occupy Wall Street was directly responsible for today’s decision, chalk this up as another potential data point in the way the protests — as well as the resurgence in populism and the intense larger debate over inequality and Wall Street accountability they have spawned — are shifting the overall landscape.