Barclays bashing is the internet même de jour. Yesterday Michael Spicer, an enterprising YouTube sketch comedian, posted a redubbed Barclays television commercial, in which he imitates the down-to-earth delivery of the bank's voiceover man, Stephen Merchant. "This one's about the London Interbank Offered Rate," Spicer mutters in a Bristol accent, over a clip of a woman turning a giant egg timer. "The woman represents Barclays and she's manipulating the Libor to help boost the banks profits… shocking greed, in a handy metaphor." Then a Photoshopped fake poster ad for the troubled bank's mortgages raced around Twitter: "For the best fixed rates," it said.
Meanwhile, a few months ago, someone in London printed stacks of stickers saying "Fuck" in the Barclays font, and affixed them to the capital's Barclays-sponsored rental bikes; the branded back wheels now suggest: "Fuck Barclays". A seven-strong Quaker-led music group from Crouch End occupied their local branch to play a lute-and-flute cover of singer-songwriter Steve Tilston's "Pretty Penny": "They just push numbers all about/ They push too hard, we bail them out/ Just to keep their hands on fortunes' wheel." Wit, cynicism, ridicule, folk music: is this really the best way to get back at Barclays for its employees' dubious activities? What else can the average punter do while the FSA gets its act together?
A more constructive answer may lie with the Move Your Money campaign, which on Wednesday staged a protest outside one of the bank's Westminster branches. The organisation wants to encourage and educate people in shifting their assets to more ethically-minded institutions than the major high-street banks. The website moveyourmoney.org.uk lists 53 building societies, 66 community development finance institutions, 580 credit unions and six banks that it considers sound, including Charity Bank, The Co-operative Bank, Ecology Building Society, Triodos, Unity and Islamic Banking.
The group was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is made up of volunteers, including many disgruntled recent graduates. And it seems some of the wider public share their ideas. The Nationwide Building Society is boasting a 26 per cent week-on-week rise in the number of new accounts being opened since last week. The Co-op Bank has seen a 25 per cent increase in current account applications, while the Charity Bank claims a 200 per cent increase in new customers in the first six months of this year.
Move Your Money volunteer Joel Benjamin says, "The idea is to grow the ethical finance sector, to take on the economic and political power of big banks. We're not a political organisation; we're creating a space for people to find information."
In 2010, actor and former footballer Eric Cantona urged his fellow Frenchmen to withdraw their money from banks en masse, with little success. Last year in the US, however, the grassroots Bank Transfer Day campaign resulted in 600,000 consumers switching from big banks to community institutions and credit unions in a single day. Behind the gags and guffaws of the more fun-filled protests, it seems that it pays to put your money where your morals are.
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