Banking on Opportunity: A Scan of the Evolving Field of Bank On Initiatives

A new report prepared by the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families under contract with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and CFED highlights the rapid growth of municipal “Bank On” initiatives that connect residents to the financial mainstream.

"Banking On Opportunity: A Scan of the Evolving Field of Bank On Initiatives" explores the emergence of the Bank On model, which was first developed by the City and County of San Francisco in 2006. Through these programs, city leaders bring together financial institutions, community organizations, financial regulators and other partners to connect residents with free and low-cost bank accounts, financial education and other safe, affordable mainstream financial services.

Bank On programs reduce reliance on high-cost check cashers, payday lenders and other fringe financial service providers, which can cost unbanked residents an average of $1,000 per year in unnecessary fees and trap them in endless cycles of debt.

Key findings of the report include:

  • As of April 2011, 32 cities, four states and two regions had fully implemented a Bank On program, with an estimated 20 additional programs expected to be launched by the summer of 2012.
  • These cities report that they have collectively opened more than 300,000 new accounts since 2006, reaching a significant and growing share of the 30 million unbanked and underbanked households in the U.S.
  • Key challenges facing Bank On program leaders include tracking appropriate data, securing adequate funding, further expanding initiatives and adjusting to a changing regulatory environment.

The "Banking On Opportunity" report traces the growth of the Bank On model within the broader financial access field, examines the current landscape of Bank On programs, highlights common features, successes and challenges and includes case studies on programs in Savannah, Ga., and Seattle-King County, Wash.

The report is part of the Treasury Department's Bank On USA initiative, which was authorized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The Treasury Department's Office of Financial Education and Financial Access is working to provide information and tools to support the Bank On field and enhance collaborative local efforts. The report also builds on knowledge gained from NLC's multi-year Bank On Cities campaign, which provided assistance to a large number of cities developing Bank On initiatives.

The report was compiled by examining a number of resources including a 2010 survey of municipal and state Bank On program leaders conducted by NLC; research gathered for NLC's toolkit, "Bank On Cities: Connecting Residents to the Financial Mainstream"; interviews with Bank On program staff; and data and analysis developed by other experts in the financial access field. CFED, the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment and the New America Foundation provided additional assistance in developing the report.

The release of the Banking On Opportunity report coincides with the announcement of a new online portal to help local leaders learn how many unbanked residents live in their community and develop Bank On initiatives. JoinBankOn.org was relaunched by CFED in partnership with the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment, the National League of Cities and the New America Foundation, with support from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The site is managed by CFED. JoinBankOn.org was originally created by the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment.