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Originally published November 5, 2011 at 7:08 PM | Page modified November 5, 2011 at 11:48 PM

Some 'make statement' by joining credit union

Hundreds of people rallied in Seattle's Westlake Park as part of Bank Transfer Day on Saturday, a local and national event in which people were encouraged to move their money from a big bank to a credit union or small community bank.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In the last month, Tyson Roberts has marched at Westlake Park to fight corporate influence and protested a Seattle visit by the CEO of banking giant JPMorgan Chase. On Saturday, he got down to his own business and opened an account at a credit union.

"Mostly I just am trying to make a statement," Roberts said.

Roberts was one of several people at the downtown BECU branch with a "99%" patch on his jacket for Bank Transfer Day, a local and national event organized by Moveon.org, the Service Employees International Union and an advocacy group called Working Washington.

Thousands of people statewide have switched to credit unions, at least in part because of proposed new banking fees and to protest the big banking industry.

On Friday, people were sitting on the floor of the downtown BECU branch waiting to open accounts, said branch manager Kristin Anderson. The credit union was staffed up on Saturday, and 659 people opened new accounts in their 45 branches — a record for a Saturday, said Todd Pietzsch, a spokesman for BECU.

Much of the populist anger behind national and local Occupy protests is directed at bank executives who accepted taxpayer bailouts and continue to collect huge salaries while much of the country is still struggling economically.

Protesters say they are part of the 99 percent of Americans suffering economically while the top 1 percent prosper. Occupy organizers say that switching to a credit union is an easy way to make a personal statement to big banks.

Banking-industry representative James Pishue said many people might not realize credit unions are exempt from many state taxes, since they are nonprofits. And he pointed out that banks provide thousands of jobs and have funded housing counselors to help people having trouble making their house payments.

"I think all of the information out there isn't necessarily correct about financial institutions," he said, "but we have been put in the spotlight and I do know that our industry has been doing everything we can to try to help folks that are struggling."

Pishue is the president and CEO of the Washington Bankers Association, which represents 85 big and small banks.

Bank of America last week scrapped its plan to charge a $5 monthly fee for debit-card purchases, after outraged customers threatened an exodus. Other major banks, including Chase and Wells Fargo, have also canceled trial tests of their own debit-card fees.

Westlake Park has been the site of Occupy Seattle protests for two months, but on Saturday it was filled with hundreds of people who said they were ditching their big banks for credit unions and community banks.

"If you're gonna get to them, you're gonna get to them through their pocketbooks," said Dee Waddell, 56, of Shoreline.

Waddell said she is moving her personal and business accounts to a credit union after 17 years with Washington Mutual and then Chase, which bought WaMu's deposits and assets after the Seattle-based bank failed in 2008.

Saturday's Transfer Day rally swelled to a few hundred people in the afternoon, many of them carrying signs advertising their recent "breakups."

"Dear Chase, It's not me, it's you," was a popular sentiment.

The crowd was older than Occupy Seattle rallies of the past few weeks. Jerry Jones, 65, of Bellevue, said he's been watching the protests with interest from home, but made his first trip to Westlake Park to support the bank switch.

He closed his Bank of America accounts last week and started using a credit union.

"I've been watching with some degree of envy," he said of the Occupy Seattle protests.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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