I Meet the Business End of Citibank’s Anti-Adult Business Policy

[Cross-posted from Waking Vixen]

When I moved to New York in 1999, I was here to attend college at the New School. There was a Citibank branch right across the street at 5th Avenue and 13th Street, so that’s where I set up my checking and savings accounts. Over the past nine years, I’ve gotten a credit card there, opened CDs, all that banking stuff. When I created Waking Vixen Productions as a DBA (doing business as) in 2006, I opened my business account at Commerce Bank. A few weeks ago I decided to get all the accounts at one bank, so I went to Citibank and tried to open a checking and savings accounts for Waking Vixen Productions. And then I got this voicemail:

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To paraphrase, the voicemail informs me that they cannot open the account for me because of “the line of business [I am] in.” Because I work in the adult industry, Citibank will not take my money.

When I did the account set up stuff with the guy at Citibank, he asked a lot of questions about my business, and I was straightforward about it. When asked what my business does at the beginning of our conversation, I told him that I do adult new media production and consulting (then of course I had to explain what new media is). I explained that I don’t have an office, work at home, its mostly web based, gave him my web address (this one, wakingvixen.com) and told him that Village Voice Media/New Times is my major client. All true stuff that didn’t seem to raise any red flags for him as we talked.

But later when the bank manager reviewed my application and they, as the voicemail says, had a look at my website they decided that “it’s obvious” that my work is adult and not a business they want to work with. As soon as I heard the message, I decided to close all my accounts with Citibank, and that’s what I did yesterday afternoon. When I marched in and told them my intentions, I explained, “Since you’ve told me in no uncertain terms that you don’t want money from the adult industry, I don’t want you to have any of my money. I would like to close my accounts.” They didn’t really argue much at first, though as we worked our way through the paperwork they explained that it wasn’t my personal accounts that were the problem, just the business. As you know, there isn’t a lot of separation in my mind between who I am as a business and who I am as a person, so this argument just isn’t going to fly with me. Also, my business is a DBA, which means it isn’t a separate legal entity (like a LLC or other corporation would be), it’s intimately tied to my personal finances in the legal sense. Who’s to say that at some point in the future, they wouldn’t get a hair across their asses and decide to close down all my accounts with them? That notion aside, no one who objects to how I make my money is going to get their hands on it. That is fundamental.

In a situation like this, I essentially have no legal recourse – the Citibank policy doesn’t go against any protected rights. Businesses are totally within their rights to discriminate against people who work in any sector of the adult industry, regardless of the legality of that work. But I can (and did) take my money elsewhere, and I told them exactly why.

This is something that people who work in all adult-related businesses should think about, and if you feel comfortable, ask companies that you do big business with if they have a policy on adult entertainment. Some will look at you like you’re crazy – money is money, who cares where it comes from? – and others will say that of course they don’t do business with people in adult. I’ve had this experience at post production houses too, when trying to get screening copies made of The Bi Apple.

I took my business to Washington Mutual immediately after receiving my official checks from Citibank, and before I even sat down, I asked if they have a policy against opening accounts for adult businesses. They didn’t think so, but reviewed their policies anyway and there was nothing against my work. Upon explaining what I do, I was also told that it didn’t seem all that adult, because I don’t own or operate a strip club and my primary business isn’t porn production. It’s so fascinating to see what different people’s takes on “adult” are.

So the moral of the story is: if you work in the adult industry or are an ally of people who do, don’t do business with Citibank, even if you can conceal where your money comes from. Money is power. Bestow that power on companies that don’t judge you (and this goes for hairdressers, CPAs, etc as well).

I’ve posted my Twitter stream and replies from my Tweeple below so you can see some reactions to what was happening as it was going on, with the most recent entries at the top.
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