‘Move Your Money’ app (#OWS)
One of the most aggravating things about the credit crisis, and the (lack of) response to the credit crisis, is that the banks were found to be gambling with the money of normal people. They took outrageous risks, relying on the F.D.I.C. insurance of deposits. It is clearly not a good system and shouldn’t be allowed.
In fact, the Volcker Rule, part of the Dodd-Frank bill which is supposed to set in place new regulations and rules for the financial industry, is supposed to address this very issue, or risky trading on deposits. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the Volcker Rule itself goes far enough – or its implementation, which is another question altogether. I’ve posted about this recently, and I have serious concerns about whether the gambling will stop. I’m not holding my breath.
Instead of waiting around for the regulators to wade through the ridiculously complicated mess which is the financial system, there’s another approach that’s gaining traction, namely draining the resources of the big banks themselves by moving our money from big banks to credit unions.
I’ve got a few posts about credit unions from my guest poster FogOfWar. The basic selling points are as follows: credit unions are non-profit, they are owned by the depositors (and each person has an equal vote- it doesn’t depend on the size of your deposits), and their missions are to serve the communities in which they operate.
There are two pieces of bad news about credit unions. The first is that, because they don’t spend money on advertising and branches (which is a good thing- it means they aren’t slapping on fees to do so), they are sometimes less convenient in the sense of having a nearby ATM or doing online banking. However, this is somewhat alleviated by the fact that there are networks of credit union ATM’s (if you know where to look).
The second piece of bad news is that you can’t just walk into a credit union and sign up. You need to be eligible for that credit union, which is technically defined as being in its field of membership.
There are various ways to be eligible. The most common ones are:
- where you live (for example, the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union allows people from the Lower East Side and Harlem into the field of membership)
- where you work
- where you worship or volunteer
- if you are a member of a union or various kinds of affiliated groups (like for example if you’re Polish)
This “field of membership” issue can be really confusing. The rules vary enormously by credit union, and since there are almost 100 credit unions in New York City alone, that’s a huge obstacle for someone to move their money. There’s no place where the rules are laid out efficiently right now (there are some websites where you can search for credit unions by your zipcode but they seem to just list nearby credit union regardless of whether you qualify for them; this doesn’t really solve the problem).
To address this, a few of us in the #OWS Alternative Banking group are getting together a team to form an app which will allow people to enter their information (address, workplace, etc.) and some filtering criteria (want an ATM within 5 blocks of home, for example) and get back:
- a list of credit unions for which the user is eligible and which fit the filtering criteria
- for each credit union, a map of its location as well as the associated ATM’s
- link to the website of the credit union
- information about the credit union: its history, its charter and mission, the products it offers, the fee structure, and its investing philosophy
It’s a really exciting project and we’ve got wonderful people working on it. Specifically, Elizabeth Friedrich, who has amazing knowledge about credit unions inside New York City (our plan is to start withing NYC but then scale up once we’ve got a good interface to add new credit unions), Robyn Caplan, who is a database expert and has worked on similar kinds of matching problems before, and Dahlia Bock, a developer from ThoughtWorks, a development consulting company which regularly sponsors social justice projects.
The end goal is to have an app, which is usable on any phone or any browser (this is an idea modeled after thebostonglobe.com’s new look- it automatically adjusts the view depending on the size of your browser’s window) and which someone can use while they watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In fact I’m hoping that once the app is ready to go, we go on the Daily Show and get Jon Stewart to sign up for a credit union on the show just to show people how easy it is.
We’re looking to recruit more developers to this project, which will probably be built in Ruby on Rails. It’s not an easy task: for example, the eligibility by location logic, for which we will probably use google maps, isn’t as easy as zipcodes. We will need to implement some more complicated logic, perhaps with an interface which allows people to choose specific streets and addresses. We are planning to keep this open source.
If you’re a Rails developer interested in helping, please send me your information by commenting below (I get to review comments before letting them be viewed publicly, so if you want to help, tell me and won’t ever make it a publicly viewable comment, I’ll just write back to your directly). And please tell your socially conscious nerd friends!