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Fairfield U. Group Takes Swipe at Big Banks

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield University has an endowment of about $218 million. And what the university doesn’t use on campus, it invests in banks and major companies. But the school’s own Proactive Investment Club wants to change that and keep the cash within the Fairfield area.

“We don’t want money invested in projects that cause environmental destruction, or companies that tend to be involved in human rights violations,” says Arturo Jaras Watts, a group member. “I think most people would agree with that, but there tends to be a focus on profit. That’s a very important part of any investment — that’s the whole reason you invest. But both values need to be put together.”

On Saturday, the group will switch its savings accounts from multinational banks to a local credit union: the Trumbull-based Personal Care American Federal Credit Union, which opened a branch on campus this fall. The students hope to persuade their school’s administration to switch Fairfield University’s endowment into a credit union as well.

Credit unions are nonprofit entities and are run by their account holders, who select Boards of Directors in annual votes. Credit unions give out loans to small businesses and home buyers as regular banks do. But because of their local focus, the students feel they can better see where their money will be invested.

“When you have this second option presented to you, it just makes sense,” said Kelly Miraglia, another member of the group.

A switch to credit unions is also a goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The nationwide movement pushed for a Bank Transfer Day on Nov. 5, pushing switches to credit unions from multinational banks. A report in The Hartford Courant found that more Americans joined credit unions during the first six weeks of the movement than in all of 2010.

Watts says he finds the Occupy Wall Street movement’s ideas “interesting,” but added, “We’re trying not to point to the negatives quite so much.” In particular, the group wants to work with the school’s administration, not against it.

“We appreciate that they’re very hard working, and that they have the university’s best intentions at heart,” Watts said. “We’re just trying to ask for change to be considered in a way that makes sense for everyone involved.”

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