Occupy St. Pete protestors have a new target: high bank fees

Published March 10, 2012

Davida Johns triggered a round of cheers and sign-waving from 40 or so Occupy St. Pete protestors Friday when she walked out of a Bank of America branch in downtown St. Petersburg after closing her account.

But the 66-year-old St. Petersburg resident said it was hard to pinpoint the overriding reason she decided to sever relationships with an institution she had done business with for decades — back when it was Nationsbank, and NCNB before that, and Barnett Banks before that.

It was partly frustration over Wall Street banks making money amid people losing their homes. It was a sense of "big banks preying on the poor" and prioritizing profits over customers. And it was the latest round of bank fees.

"It's a culmination of all of that," Johns said after closing a money market account. "I've been wanting to do this for a while."

The "Move Your Money" campaign by Occupy protestors — urging customers of big banks to shift to community banks and credit unions — is not new. It grew out of frustration with the federal bank bailouts, the spike in foreclosures and a short-lived plan by large banks to impose new debit card fees.

But the movement got fresh legs over the past month as more megabanks began widespread testing of new checking account fees. Bank of America is testing monthly account fees for new customers ranging from $9 to $25. Wells Fargo has been phasing out many free checking options, recently expanding a pilot program of a $7 monthly checking fee. Other institutions, such as SunTrust, have begun charging walk-in customers seeking printouts of their checking statements.

"With Bank of America and Wells Fargo talking about more fees… we're having to kick them in the face again," said Lenny Flank, 51, a veteran protestor who described himself as one of the Occupy "elders."

Bank of America spokeswoman Christina Beyer Toth said checking fee tests are restricted to Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts and don't affect current customers.

"We are continuing to learn from those tests and have not made any decisions about when, how, or if we would change our fees on new accounts," she said.