Outside the branch of Barclay’s bank in Holborn, central London, there is a queue of people snaking around the building. As they wait for it to open on this cold morning it is reminiscent of the scenes of panicked depositors who in 2007 caused the first run on a bank in 150 years, as the stricken Northern Rock became the first major casualty of the credit crunch.
But the while the 50 or so people are here to withdraw their money, it is for reasons other than fears over the bank’s solvency.
Photograph by Tim Hunt
Billed by organisers as a 'Better Bailout', this is the launch event of the Move Your Money, a campaign calling on people in the UK to abandon major financial institutions. The aim is to encourage individuals to use their collective consumer power to build a better banking system by withdrawing their money and placing it in an “ethical and socially useful alternative”.
On the day it announced quarterly profits of £5.9bn and a bonus pool of £1.5bn, Barclay's has been chosen as the first target due to the implicit £11bn guarantee it enjoys courtesy of the taxpayer – while public services are cut across the country.
Louis Brookes, 25, who works in community finance, helped organize the event. He says: “We are here because we believe the banking system doesn’t work in the interest of ordinary people and communities. We are calling on people to take their money out of the big banks and put it in more ethical alternatives, such as credit unions, small building societies and ethical investment banks such as Triodos”.
Some say they are here to close their accounts or withdraw savings in protest at what they see as the Barclay’s complicity in triggering the economic crisis.
For others, it is a question of what the bank does with their money. Molly Solomons, 26, who works for a housing charity, has been a Barclay’s customer for six years. She says she is removing her money to make sure that it wouldn’t “be used for [investment in] environmentally destructive practices like tar sands [oil] extraction”.
Student Portia Roelofs, 22, was one of the many people who, although not a customer, came to deliver a letter of complaint to the Barclay’s branch. This letter set out her discontent with its activities that include investment in the arms trade, involvement in food speculation and its alleged support of oppressive regimes such Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
She says: “It is a story that everyone knows but no-one is taking responsibility for. The banks are responsible for the economic crisis. We have got to say that we have had enough and this is a good way of doing it.”
Organisers are hoping to emulate the success of a similar campaign in America, which has resulted in $57,210,999 being moved from targeted institutions. They cite the success of historic boycott campaigns such as that which lead Barclay's to withdraw from Apartheid South Africa.
With anti-bank sentiment still running high in Britain – public outcries have led to the former head of the part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland Fred Goodwin being stripped of his knighthood, while current chief Stephen Hester was pressed into forgoing a bonus payment – there is scope for the rage to be converted into action.
This could prove a further boon for alternative and community finance, which has expanded in recent years. Credit unions, which are financial co-operatives democratically owed by their members, saw growth of 40 per cent in membership between 2007 and 2010.
Molly Solomon sums up the sentiment: “Why should you keep all your hard-earned money with a rotten bank like Barclay’s when you can keep it somewhere better?”