Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson are organizing a big bank boycott. They want depositors to take their money out of Too-Big-To-Fail banks and put them in smaller, high quality banks.
They’ve launched a new website and have teamed up with Chris Whalen to give folks other options. Whalen’s firm, Institutional Risk Analytics, has a proprietary system that grades banks using FDIC data. Enter your zip code and Whalen provides a list of high quality banks in your area.
It’s a potentially powerful combination. Huffington has wide reach due to her media ubiquity and popular website. Johnson, once a portfolio manager for George Soros’s Quantum Fund, is a successful veteran of high finance who’s spoken out against the danger of derivatives and will head Soros’ $50 million Institute for New Economic Thinking. Leveraging Whalen’s data means the two can do more than simply ask folks to move their money. They can provide better options.
(You can read more about it in this column published at HuffPo.)
I applaud the effort and plan on taking them up on it. Some of my savings currently reside at a TBTF bank, earning nothing, and I plan to move the account shortly.
When bloggers like me talk about creditors holding banks responsible for the risk they take, that includes bank depositors. If you have deposits in a bank — a CD, checking or savings account, for example — you are a creditor of your bank. Moving your deposits out of banks that benefit from too-big-to-fail guarantees is a tangible way you can protest bailouts.
I do have one small quibble with the Huffington/Johnson site, in particular the YouTube video they’ve produced. The idea that fat cat bankers — “Potter” from It’s a Wonderful Life stands in — are solely responsible for the crisis oversimplifies the issue. Plenty of smaller banks have gotten themselves into trouble with irresponsible lending. FDIC’s problem bank list now stands at 552, composed mainly of smaller banks.That’s 7% of all FDIC insured institutions in case you’re wondering.
It also lets the rest of us off the hook. Without willing investors and an assist from Alan Greenspan’s low rates, big banks couldn’t have inflated the bubble. Yeah, many should have known better. But let’s face it, Wall Street bankers aren’t the only ones that are greedy.
I also worry that big banker baiting could lead to violence if/when the financial sh*t again hits the fan.
But again, that’s a small quibble. Huffington/Johnson/Whalen — all great folks I’ve had the chance to speak with in the past — are spot on with this effort.
What truly separates community bankers from the big boys is that they can fail. If they mess up, they end up in FDIC receivership. If they lose, they pay for their own mistakes. That’s why this effort should hold particular appeal to financial conservatives.
If it weren’t for the moral hazard created by deposit insurance, depositors would flock to banks that lend conservatively. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is take our money out of quasi-public banks like Chase, Citi, Wells, BofA, Ally, et al and move them to banks that operate free of government support.
More at Move Your Money.