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Star Parker and FI Advocacy

I attended a meeting recently where syndicated columnist Star Parker was the speaker. Star is also the founder of CURE, the Coalition of Urban Renewal and Education. Regardless of what you might think of her politics, writing and activism, Star has an amazing life story and she tells it in a captivating manner. What I found most interesting is how passionate, energetic, and plainly honest she was about her ideas. At times animated, at times forceful, and always with great conviction, Star enthralled the crowd for an hour, then stayed for another 2 hours shaking hands, taking pictures, and talking with attendees. The conclusion I drew was that we should stop searching for alternative energy sources; instead, we simply need to figure out what is powering Star Parker and tap into that to power our cities.

What’s my point in talking about Star’s performance at this event? It’s this: who is the equivalent advocate for financial services that is writing and speaking on behalf of banks and credit unions? Who is passionately sticking up for the valuable role that financial institutions play in our economy and our communities? Who is exposing the truth about online banking and payment services that are nice to look at but don’t provide fundamental protection and safeguards (such as FDIC insurance)?  When a columnist like Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald writes a column that excoriates banks for having the temerity to charge for basic services (Valdosta Daily Times column, Tuesday Oct 11, 2011), there was no outrage. No one wrote a column challenging the basic assumption of the article—that you shouldn’t have to pay to use your own money. What Mr. Pitts and so many others get wrong is that banks DON’T charge customers to use their own money. If you have money in your pocket, you can use it as you will. What banks and credits unions do is give you access to your money, at a time and place of your choosing, so you DON’T HAVE TO CARRY IT ALL WITH YOU! It’s access to money, not the actual use of money, that incurs a charge. It’s no different than when I take a suit to the dry cleaners; it’s my suit, but I pay for the service they are providing to it. When you consider ATMs, retail point-of-sale, and online merchants, there are literally millions of places where your money is available to you on demand. There is a cost to the financial institution to provide this access, a cost that used to be offset by other fees. Most of those other fees have now been eliminated or dramatically reduced by laws and regulation.

The fact that banks and credit unions are expected to provide the accessibility to money that they do and then be criticized for charging a fair fee for their services is unlike any other good or service we purchase. Financial institutions should not be embarrassed about their fees—they should proudly advocate for the valuable services they provide.  Now, if we could only find a Star Parker-like advocate to speak on their behalf…

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