Young Woman Wins Fight Against Big Bank

Nov 3, 2011
Originally published on November 3, 2011 11:05 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: But first, who's ready to fight over $5? Well, it turns out that thousands of customers were willing to fight their banks when some announced new fees for shopping with debit cards. Many people cancelled their accounts and one 22-year-old college graduate decided to go further. Actually, 300,000 steps further.

Bank of America customer Molly Katchpole collected 300,000 supporters from an online petition asking the bank to rethink its plans. After the public outcry, Bank of America announced it would not impose the debit card fee after all.

And Molly Katchpole joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

MOLLY KATCHPOLE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: You know, how did you get the idea for this? I know a lot of people were mad because this is the kind of thing that, you know - it didn't take much to tap into the outrage, you know, over this. It was the kind of thing people really literally were talking about over the water cooler, but you actually decided to take it a step further and do something about it.

KATCHPOLE: Well, I'd signed Change.org petitions before and, you know, social media is something that I'm really interested in and, you know, I'm living paycheck to paycheck and I just felt like something needed to be done, and so I wrote up a petition and I put it up on Change.org and it went viral. You know, I mean, people went crazy and people just started signing it, passing it around. I put it up on Twitter and I think it made its rounds there, so within a couple of days I had tens of thousands of signatures.

MARTIN: And you took it to Bank of America personally? Did you take it to your local branch?

KATCHPOLE: I did. I took it downtown at 18th and K and I handed them 155,000 signatures. At that point it had been up for a little less than a week, I think. Yeah.

MARTIN: A week?

KATCHPOLE: A week. Yeah.

MARTIN: And then what happened? Did someone actually take it from you or how did that work?

KATCHPOLE: It was kind of funny because I went in to close my account and I had this big box full of paper and I handed it to them and they didn't quite know what to do. They were like, oh, okay. Thank you. You know, we'll make sure this gets to somebody. And, you know, I don't know if they did. I hope they did. But I think they were a little bit taken aback by it.

MARTIN: Was it hard to come to the decision to close your account yourself?

KATCHPOLE: No. I mean...

MARTIN: Because we were talking about this earlier. In fact, there were articles written about this. A lot of people said, you know what? I'm closing my account. And then when they thought about it and, you know, terminating their online bill payment arrangements and all that, a lot of people just didn't.

KATCHPOLE: Yeah.

MARTIN: So was it a hard decision for you?

KATCHPOLE: I think because I'm so young, I had only been with them for three years, so it was fairly easy. I was a little bit worried about - I had just paid my rent. I had to pay an electricity bill and a cable bill and I was a little bit worried that those would bounce, but you know, I mean, luckily my student loans haven't kicked in yet, so I didn't have those. But it turned up(ph) being fine.

MARTIN: Were they nice about it when you talked to them about it or were they - you know, there's this ad that - I don't want to say the name of the particular bank, company, but a lot of people have been talking a lot about the customer service that a lot of people feel that they're getting or the lack thereof, and there's this one commercial for one financial institution where the people show up and try to talk to somebody at the bank and the guy standing out front just kind of laughs in their face.

And so were they nice to you about it when you tried to talk to somebody about your feelings about the fee or...

KATCHPOLE: They were. They were very cordial when I went to close my account.

MARTIN: Okay. Say shoo, shoo. Well, so did you think that was going to end it there? Did you actually think you were going to win is I guess what I'm wondering.

KATCHPOLE: I know. People keep asking me that. I don't know what I was thinking. We had one victory last week when a bunch of the big banks said that they weren't going to charge the fee and then Bank of America said that they would be refining their fee structure. And so that was one victory and that was really exciting. And then a couple of days later they announced that they were just stepping down entirely. And I don't know if I was expecting it. People keep asking me that and I don't have an answer because I don't know what I was thinking. We were just kind of like going along with it and, you know, oh, this is exciting. You know, I was hoping that it would work and it did.

MARTIN: I'm interested in your response to the comment by Bank of America's CEO, Bryan Moynihan, who said, after the news of this fee went public, or this proposed fee went public and the initial - there was an initial flurry of outrage, including from members of Congress. And he said that they have a right to make a profit, and that they needed this fee in order to make up from profits lost because of regulatory changes imposed by Congress to bring down, you know, other fees. You know, for example, overdraft fees, which were quite large, and to bring those down. So what do you say to that?

KATCHPOLE: Well, customers have a right to protest when they're unhappy about something. And from what we could see, you know, Bank of America didn't present us with any numbers when they announced it. You know, they didn't say, specifically, this is how much money we've lost because of these regulations. They didn't say that. They just said it's going to be a $5 fee. And I think people haven't been protesting enough when they're unhappy about something, and I just kind of felt like that needed to happen. And so we absolutely have a right to protest when we're unhappy about something. And I thought his response was a little bit slick(ph), you know, this and but, you know, we kind of came back with it.

MARTIN: It's $5 a month, by the way, was the argument. The $5 a month was for people who chose to use their debt cards to make purchases in lieu of say, a credit card instead of using it to withdraw cash. And so what is it about that that you think kind of struck of nerve? People spend $5 on a lot of things. Like there's a sandwich you can get, you know, for – I'm not going to call the company name, but there's a sandwich you can get for $5, it seems to be rather popular. I'm sure that, you know, you and I are both enjoying some coffee right now and, you know, that can be $5. And I bet you people buy more than one of those a month. So what is it about that that you think – ehh!

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KATCHPOLE: You know, it's not always easy to get to an ATM to withdraw cash. I live a couple of stops away from the nearest Bank of America branch. And, you know, if you're really busy, I think it's easy to use your debit card. And also, there's a lot of bills I have to pay. There's a lot of fees we constantly have to keep up with every single month, and this is just kind of like the last straw.

MARTIN: Molly Katchpole is a recent college graduate. She scored a victory when her online petition went viral and is now credited with causing Bank of America and other institutions to back off from that proposed $5 a month debit card fee. She joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Molly, thanks so much for joining us.

KATCHPOLE: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.