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Saturday November 5th was Bank Transfer Day, the day on which Americans were urged to switch their accounts from the big banks to credit unions. For a grassroots movement started by art gallery owner Kristen Christian on Facebook, it garnered a lot of media attention. Just as one example, on Friday evening November 4th, I spent an hour as a guest on KGO Radio in San Francisco as host Gil Gross took calls from listeners, many of whom reported they had already moved to a credit union or planned to do so.

Was Bank Transfer Day a Success?

Last week the Credit Union National Association released figures that an estimated 650,000 people had joined credit unions since Sept. 29 (the day Bank of America unveiled its now-rescinded $5 monthly debit card fee) and had added an estimated $4.5 billion to new savings accounts at credit unions, both from new and existing members.

[Related Article: Want to Switch Banks? Here’s How to Do It.]

On Tuesday, the association said that more than 40,000 people joined credit unions on Bank Transfer Day itself, bringing with them $80 million in assets. One credit union in Georgia reported a 60-percent jump in new accounts on Nov. 5.

However, Javelin Strategy & Research senior analyst Mark Schwanhausser notes that generally the numbers of consumers switching primary financial institutions has been declining. In the March 2009 survey, which reported data from the previous twelve months, 11% of consumers had made a switch. In the 2010 survey, that figure was 12% and in the 2011 survey, it dropped to 7%. Perhaps this recent movement will reverse the trend.

InstitutionalRiskAnalytics.com offers a free tool that allows consumers to locate banks (including smaller community and regional banks) in their area, along with information about safety and soundness of those financial institutions. It received what he describes as “massive traffic” in early 2010 when the free tool was featured in the Move Your Money effort. Move Your Money was spearheaded by a video created by filmmaker Eugene Jarecki and publicized by Arianna Huffington, among others. But Institutional Risks Analytics CEO Dennis Santiago says he didn’t see the kind of traffic he expected this past weekend.

[Resource: Not sure where your credit stands? Get your Free Credit Report Card to find out.]

Describing traffic to his site between Thursday through Sunday, Santiago says, “Total event count-wise, it peaked at about 10,000 querying the system (which was) nowhere near the size of the numbers when Move Your Money was taking place in 2010.” By contrast, the Huffington Post reported that in the first seven days of the Move Your Money campaign in January 2010, there were 340,000 searches for community banks.

Santiago also notes that in recent searches, visitors were by and large looking up banks, rather than credit unions, at a ratio of 5 to 1. “Interestingly enough, the fewer cases where there were people looking at the credit unions there was a higher incidence of people looking at the second page with a full list of branches,” he says, and speculates that “the people who took the time to look at the credit unions we’re pretty serious about it.”

What likely happened is that those web surfers were heading over to the credit union locator website, ASmarterChoice.org. Mark Wolff, Senior Vice President-Communications for the Credit Union National Association reports that site “recorded about 70,000 visitors on Friday—an all-time high—and another 62,000 on Saturday. We had been averaging 2,000 to 3,000 visits a day. During one two-hour period, we had more than 17,000 visitors come to aSmarterChoice.org—which temporarily froze our search tool—but we got it back up and running within the hour.”

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American Banker’s Association spokesperson Carol Kaplan says that its own data on the impact of Bank Transfer Day is not available yet, and won’t be available for at least a few more weeks. A Bank of America spokesperson reported that information about deposits is only reported with quarterly financial results.

The Word on the Street »

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