Over the past few months, credit unions and big banks have been battling hard for the hearts, minds, and bank accounts of the consuming public. While public anger directed at big banks is driving a movement which appears to favor credit unions, the status of smaller, community banks is less clear.
In the current political and economic climate, it is easy to see how so many consumers are flocking to the more community-oriented, more service-focused credit unions. But what about community banks? Shouldn't these community-oriented, responsibly-run, relationship-driven organizations be cashing in on this climate? And if not, why?

Of course, small banks would want to appeal to the consumers who leave big banks. But community banking tends to be more focused on businesses than consumer banking. And therein lies the problem - or the solution - depending on how it is handled.

Community banks are typically less focused on the consumer market than credit unions. If you are a credit union, chances are you want consumer assets and consumer loan business. Thus, Move Your Money day, by most measures, was a wild success for credit unions. This is partly because it is relatively easy for a consumer to switch accounts. For a local business with a line of credit, however, switching banks can be a painful undertaking.

That's one reason why community banks haven't been able to cash in on the current zeitgeist. But they can, and should, be making an argument. While big banks scramble to convince us that they're supporting local communities, its the small banks who have the more credible voice on the topic. And the anger and distrust aimed at big banks is not limited to Occupy protesters. It is likely that many business owners and executives would prefer to go with a community bank in this climate.

That explains the new crop of "Go Local" campaigns, of the sort currently being pushed by the Virginia Association of Community Banks. There's a significant shift happening. But as big banks and credit unions mount major PR offensives, community banks need to try harder to be heard and make their case, too.