They don’t want to break the bank, just change it. Members of Occupy Seattle held a protest July 20 to remind members of Seattle City Council of their promise to adjust the city’s banking practices so city money is invested in community-based, socially responsible financial institutions.
In November, councilmembers implemented Resolution 31337, or the Occupy Resolution, recognizing Occupy’s right to free speech and promising to review investment and banking procedures so they align with city values.
Since then, not much has changed with the way the city invests its money. Taylor Niemy, one of four organizers for the July 20 march, said Occupy members still want the city to move money from the big banks historically used to local credit unions or community banks.
The city says that’s a tall order. Josh Fogt, legislative aide to Councilmember Mike O’Brien, said the city is held within confines of banking regulations, and when you factor in those regulations Seattle basically has four options for financial institutions: Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo, Key Bank and Chase Bank.
Most credit unions and community banks simply can’t handle Seattle’s big bucks. The city makes regular deposits of $250 to 500 million, Fogt said. Spreading the money around is an option, but only in theory. Of the more than 60 credit unions in the state, only three are authorized under state banking regulations to accept public funds.
As an alternative, city officials are now using socially responsible banking as one criteria in deciding which bank to use. A section on socially responsible banking was recently added to the Request for Proposal (rfp) used to find financial institutions. The section of the rfp about social responsibly in banking includes 18 questions. Financial institutions applying to be the primary bank for city funds are required to provide information on the bank’s most recent national evaluation of their Community Reinvestment Act and the organization’s efforts to avoid foreclosure and help homeowners remain in their homes, among other things.
Fogt said there are also other options for banking that do not involve the large banks Occupy protesters want to avoid, such as creating a state bank — North Dakota currently has one.
Council staff members have studied this idea, but for now, the council is banking on its rfp.
It was released to various financial institutions in late June; sealed proposals are due back from bidders August 8. Fogt said councilmembers are waiting to see the type of response they get before making any other changes in the way the city banks.
Niemy said members of Occupy are watching and waiting, but they don’t plan to back down.
“You can do one protest for a cause,” he said, “but if you don’t follow through and stick with it, nothing may come from it.”