November 1, 2011
She’s 22, doesn’t have a full-time job, and couldn’t afford the $60 annual fee that Bank of America wanted to charge its debit-card customers who didn’t hold BofA mortgages or have deposits of $20,000 or more in the bank – so she started a revolution.
On Tuesday, after collecting more than 300,000 signatures from an online campaign last month that went viral, Molly Katchpole, a recent graduate of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, declared victory when BofA scrapped plans to charge a $5 monthly debit-card fee.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s very exciting,” Katchpole told The Fiscal Times about the reversal she helped engineer. “I drew up a petition and more than 300,000 people signed it – it wasn’t just me who did this. I want to stress that. It was the people who signed it and passed it around to their friends and family and took the time to post it to Facebook and write emails.”
Katchpole’s initial outrage against the bank, she says, was based on her limited income. “I’m literally living paycheck to paycheck," she said. "I couldn’t handle any more fees from the bank. Using a debit card was the easiest way for me to access my money. And I really felt there were other people who would feel the same way about this."
The news from BofA, which received a government bailout in 2008, follows similar announcements from both JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. Those institutions said last week that they were nixing their own tests of debit-card fees.
“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” Bank of America co-COO David Darnell said in a statement. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”
The folks at change.org, which has hosted the viral campaign against the bank over the past month or so, say that Katchpole’s efforts became “the largest consumer advocacy campaign ever run” on their site. According to their records, the campaign was attracting more than 3,000 new supporters an hour and as many as 40,000 a day. “With people struggling economically across the country, the level of interest in this campaign [was] unprecedented,” Ben Rattray, founder of change.org, said in a statement.
Good Golly, Miss Molly!
Katchpole works as a nanny and does freelance work for a political P.R. firm in Washington, D.C., where she’s lived since this summer. The Rhode Island native graduated with a degree in art and architectural history, and was politically active with the College Democrats.
“I just thought it was really disgusting how they [the Bank of America] went ahead with the fee, especially now, at the beginning of all the Occupy Wall Street protests, when people are clearly angry all across the country,” she said. “And they didn’t respond to the petition until almost two weeks later. Clearly, they were not expecting any outcry. I’m glad that they decided to [change course].”
It would be “my biggest dream,” added Katchpole, “for other people in America to stop being passive if they hear something that they’re upset about, to speak out about it and try to do something.” She also says she wishes the candidates running for the highest office in the land would talk about everyday issues like this during the presidential debates. “They’re not ever really responding to things that are going on in the news. And I think something like this would be an interesting thing for them to debate. Or the Occupy movement. They haven’t. I think politicians need to start acknowledging this, or acting like it actually counts and matters to them.”
In an earlier interview with Business Insider, Katchpole said that her activism wasn’t part of any other cause or organization, including Occupy Wall Street. (The group had been calling for consumers to celebrate “Dump Your Bank Day” this coming weekend.) It was simply meant as a counterpunch to bank bailouts and big Wall Street bonuses. “I hope people are hearing this and [that they] put away the ‘I only vote this way or that way’ mentality they might have,” Katchpole said. “It’s the middle class of America that’s keeping this country running. If they can’t spend money, or feel like they have a voice, then things are going to go wrong.”
In her original letter to Bank of America, Katchpole wrote: “The American people bailed out Bank of America during a financial crisis the banks helped create. You paid zero dollars in federal income tax last year. And now your bank is profiting, raking in $2 billion in profits last quarter alone. How can you justify squeezing another $60 a year from your debit card customers? This is despicable.”
She also wrote: “American consumers can’t afford these additional fees. We reject any claims by BofA that this latest fee is somehow necessary. Please, do the right thing. Reverse your decision…”
Clearly, someone was listening.