Sunday, April 21, 2024

Seattle residents demonstrate in April 2009 at a Bank of America branch as part of nationwide protests to “take back the economy.” (Photo: Neil Parekh)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about banks and the bailouts.

In the distant past, as a college student in Boston, I barely had time to be a customer of BayBank before it merged with Bank of Boston and became BankBoston. Only three years later it was bought by Fleet Bank and became FleetBoston. Six years later it was consumed by Bank of America.

I’d abandoned it even before Fleet sailed in, switching to the small, locally run Cambridge Savings Bank and watching with pity as my friends who stayed squirmed under increasingly onerous and irritating rules, mistakes and restrictions. And for those who thought they had it bad under Fleet, well, it wasn’t long before that institution was remembered with something like nostalgia; Bank of America’s reputation is of a company fond of its corporate clients and rather dismissive of the folks whose checking-account figures aren’t in the six, seven or eight figures. And there are many; Bank of America is the largest bank in the United States, with some 57 million individual and small-business accounts.

Like all big banks, its fees are most punishing of the people who can least afford it, and it has been known to do things like drop customers or double their rates for no good reason.

It owned Countrywide Financial and has settled claims over selling bad mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, all of which puts the bank at the center of the financial crisis still festering in this country. Noting its own importance to millions of customers, the bank and the Merrill Lynch subsidiary were happy to be rescued by the government to the tune of $45 billion in taxpayer funds and $188 million in taxpayer-funded insurance, then pay out bonuses of about $6.9 billion to the executives who caused the problems in the first place. No apology was forthcoming.

It’s for this reason there are websites such as and, very likely, why the bank is feeling a bit panicked that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, says he is going to release information early this year that he presumes will “give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms.”

In a bit of preemptive damage control, the bank has bought up hundreds or perhaps thousands of URLs that could be used against it, including the awfully specific and a dozen variations thereof. (Brian Moynihan being chief executive of Bank of America Corp.) Good luck with that.

Even if it could come up with, and take off the registries, every possible offensive URL, I’m still guessing the bank’s board isn’t up to tackling a little group named 4chan , let alone the press that could accompany Assange’s release of leaked data. But this bank would rather fight than change, and it’s fighting even before Assange has named his target.

Cambridge Savings Bank may not be perfect — it’s doubtful there’s such a bank out there — but there’s no and undoubtedly no revelations forthcoming of disastrous leaks. It’s why Arianna Huffington and others urge people to move to local banks and have provided a way to find highly rated ones.

In banking, small is beautiful. Or at least not dangerous, and at this point that’s good enough for me.