City considers moving finances away from big banks

In the year following encampment on the steps of Claremont City Hall, the city’s Occupiers have shifted focus from protest to action.

While the tents and demonstrations remain only a memory, members of Claremont’s Occupy group continue to improve upon its mission of fair economic structure. With a renewed focus on taking down the nation’s “big banks,” at least locally, their work is proving fruitful.

After months of prodding, the city made its search for a new bank official Monday, sending out a newly approved Request for Proposal (RFP) for banking services. Banks within a 25-mile radius of Claremont will be eligible, according to Finance Director Adam Pirrie.

This move was spurred by requests from Occupy Claremont members, who say they are pleased with the council’s unanimous support of moving toward partnership with a socially responsible banking institution.

“Our hope is that this will move [the city] from the big banks like Bank of America, which is your current provider, to a community or regional bank,” said Terry Donnelly. “We remain very positive about this and hope this [process] will end in a bank that will not only provide you high-quality services but that I think will better represent the values of the citizens here in Claremont.”

In April, the Claremont City Council directed staff to evaluate the possibility of transferring city funds to a local credit union with unanimous support from council members.

“I am very open to giving a smaller vendor an opportunity if that vendor can meet our needs and request for proposal. I’m certainly not a fan of some of the bigger banks,” said Councilmember Corey Calaycay at that meeting.

“It sends a good message to the community that we do our best…to try and address policies around our citizens’ concerns,” he continued.  

Heeding the council’s request, the city’s financial department work plan for 2012-2013 included the issuance of an RFP for general banking services, according to Mr. Pirrie. The work plan was set in place to evaluate the city’s current range of banking services and identify the bank best suited to meet the city’s current banking needs.

While a list of minimum requirements include being a full-service bank in good standing and a member of the Federal Reserve System and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation among others, further criteria include strength and stability, reasonable costs and a history of socially responsible banking.

“Pricing, while important, will not be the primary factor in identifying the successful bidder,” Mr. Pirrie said. “Responses to questions on service enhancements, community reinvestment and other factors will form the basis for comparisons between banks that may be equal in terms of the primary factors on which proposals are evaluated.”   

While Mr. Pirrie ensures that candidates meet the city’s basic banking needs, the city will also take the opportunity to explore new services. Such items include opportunities for online information reporting and transactions, bill concentration and account reconcilement.

 In the wake of the city’s interest in preparing emergency operations, such as the purchase of an Emergency Operations Command Center, city officials are also interested in a bank that can provide the city with an emergency line of credit.

“In the event that the city’s financial systems were to be compromised by a natural disaster, the city would have an alternate option for continuing operations or responding to that emergency,” Mr. Pirrie explained.  

With urging from Occupiers, the chosen bank will have at least a satisfactory ranking as determined by the California Reinvestment Act, which encourages banks to help meet the needs of low-income borrowers and to reduce discriminatory lending practices.

“The bank with the highest overall rating will be recommended to the council for approval of contract,” Mr. Pirrie said.

With unanimous support of the city as it moves forward, councilmembers across the board added words of encouragement, not only regarding the city’s move toward responsible banking, but for the continued efforts of its actively engaged residents.

“What we ended up having here is, in fact, a document that does reflect the character and ethical basis upon which many Claremonters do their daily business and expect the city to do likewise,” Councilmember Joe Lyons said.  

“I am hopeful that when all is said and done, we will have a respectable bank representing our city,” Mr. Calaycay added.

The names of interested banks will be made available to the public as they come forward, according to Mr. Pirrie. The deadline for interested banks is January 28. The city anticipates returning to council with a bid on March 12.

—Beth Hartnett


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