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Credit Unions See New Business in Anti-Wall Street Angst

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In the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the general feeling of anti-big bank angst in America right now, credit unions have been seeing an uptick in business activity and interest. In Michigan, anyway.

No one’s willing to attribute it to Occupy Wall Street, specifically -- big banks have made some unforced errors in the last month, including Bank of America's annoucement that it would charge debit card users a monthly fee starting in 2012 (three years after taxpayers fronted it a $20 billion bailout). Then there's Chase's new $12 monthly fee for members who don't maintain minimum balances -- of $1,500 (Chase got $25 billion in the bailout). And Citi isn't helping with Wall Street's image management, having police arrest protesters who were trying to close their bank accounts in lower Manhattan over the weekend.

The new fees, at least, have helped create a greater-than-normal level of interest in how credit unions operate and what they have to offer, said Mona Shand, spokeswoman for the Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates, which represents some 324 credit unions in Michigan, covering 96% of credit unions in the state.

The league told Minyanville it's seen a recent spike in traffic on its credit union locator site,, and anecdotally, its members are reporting above-average levels of activity. Shand said the league is preparing the official data on that new activity, to be released sometime next week.

Credit unions typically offer free checking -- some 90% of Michigan's do, according to Shand. They don’t typically require minimum balances, either, and also don’t pile extra charges on debit card users.

But are credit unions’ gains big banks’ losses?

That's less clear. While Bank of America is no longer the biggest, by assets -- that distinction now belongs to JP Morgan Chase -- an analyst interviewed by Canada's Financial Post yesterday attributed its declining position to the bank’s acquisition of mortgage lender Countrywide. The Occupy Wall Street protests and the direct action they’ve inspired, including the decision by some to vote with their wallets and close their accounts with major banks, didn’t even merit a mention.

See a video of Occupy Wall Street protesters being arrested at a Citibank branch for trying to close their accounts:

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.