LOS ANGELES-Kristen Christian, the founder of Bank Transfer Day, says that her life is "barely recognizable" compared to a year ago.

Not that she's complaining. Whereas last year she was running a small art gallery (which later closed after confrontations with members of the Occupy movement), these days Christian is a well-known figure on the CU circuit, delivering keynote addresses and leading breakout sessions at credit union and cooperative conferences all over the world.

One of the highlights of the last year, she told Credit Union Journal, was addressing more than 4,000 attendees at CUNA's 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference. Beyond her work on the speaker circuit, Christian has also found herself consulting for various companies (mostly non-profits, she says), though non-disclosure agreements prevent her from naming them.

When she set up the Bank Transfer Day page on Facebook-an action she thought maybe a few friends would participate in at most-Christian had little knowledge of the inner workings of credit unions, and she said she has spent much of the last year educating herself about CUs.

"I still don't have a particular interest in the inner workings of finance by any means, so I think that definitely is a challenge," she said. "If you're not interested in something inherently it can be more difficult to learn about it. So every day is a learning experience."

 

Beyond CU 101

Beyond CU 101, she said she has also been focused on "educating myself on the challenges CUs face in small business lending. The MBL cap is particularly troubling to me that it has not been passed, so I've been focusing on trying to understand why and why the Senate has this bill that they've promised to vote on but haven't voted on."

As Bank Transfer Day reaches its one-year anniversary, Christian has said that it won't be repeated for 2012, if ever. "When you have an event that just organically grows, it's very difficult to repeat it with the exact sentiment," she said. "Attempting to repeat the same thing every year, year after year reminds me of a dog chasing its tail."

On the other hand, she said that being completely unaware of what her Facebook posting would spawn was probably a virtue. "If I would have known more, I might have done things differently, and it might not have been as successful," she said, adding that her only regret was not being prepared for the backlash she and the movement received from Occupy and Anonymous. Christian said that backlash is related to her reluctance to partner with either of those two groups.

Because she's now a frequent traveler-including international ventures-Christian says she also regularly gets flack from TSA. "I get a full-body pat down and an interrogation about why I'm traveling and what my business is there," she said. "I know I'm not on the 'Do Not Fly' list because I am able to fly, but I believe I'm on the selectee list based on the encounters I have every time I travel."

Christian is set to address the Cooperatives United conference in Manchester, England this fall, followed by an event with Skift Bank Dag, a Bank Transfer Day-style event in Denmark.

"I'll probably be detained for at least an hour, because that trip probably looks questionable to them," she said. "I know all of that hopping around is probably going to set off some red flags. It's still surprising to me because I don't have a criminal record."

 

What To Do Now

Bank Transfer Day gained steam because it was able to successfully harness social media in a way that most CUs still struggle to replicate. "I tell CUs that their best option is to vocalize what makes them unique," she said, calling social media "an opportunity for credit unions to express their own individual identities, because they are all so different from one another and the way they operate and serve their communities."

She pointed out that social media can be an especially effective tool for smaller CUs and those in rural communities, bringing together members who share the same values as the CU, even if they live far from one another. But she also cautioned that social media-driven growth can often be proportionate to a CU's size, and Christian stressed the importance of tempering expectations of growth.

Christian praised the work of CUs, leagues and trade associations nationwide, but she also noted that the strong growth credit unions have seen in the last year could have been augmented by a national branding campaign. "I've been a little disappointed, but I'm hoping that in the coming years we'll see a stronger presence from [CUNA], because I feel they do set the bar," she said.

 

 

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