Bank On Cities Campaign

The YEF Institute's Bank On Cities Campaign assists municipal leaders in connecting low- and moderate-income residents to mainstream financial services so they can avoid high-cost check-cashers, predatory lenders and other costly alternative financial services.

A connection to the financial mainstream can help residents:

  • avoid unmanageable debt and bad credit;
  • gain a secure place to store and access money in times of natural disaster;
  • be empowered to accumulate and protect savings or other financial assets; and
  • carry less cash with them, which reduces the likelihood of being a target of theft and crime.

Modeled after the City of San Francisco's successful Bank On San Francisco program, a "Bank On" initiative involves partnerships among local government officials, financial institutions and community-based organizations to develop pathways for residents to access basic, low-cost financial services and financial education.

A typical Bank On "starter account" is targeted toward those who lack bank accounts or those who have had negative prior relationships with banks. The account generally includes a free or low-cost checking account, protection from overdraft or other bank fees, and financial education. Some Bank On programs include other services that mimic aspects of popular alternative financial products, such as payday loans and money orders, but at a lower cost.

The Bank On Cities Campaign
Launched in early 2008, the YEF Institute's Bank On Cities Campaign has worked closely with an initial cohort of 18 cities over the first two years, providing in-depth technical assistance and peer learning opportunities to local leaders as they implement Bank On initiatives in their communities.

Participating cities included Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Providence, R.I., San Antonio, San Francisco, Savannah, Ga., and Seattle in the first year and Bryan, Texas; Denver; Gaithersburg, Md.; Indianapolis; Louisville, Ky.; Newark, N.J.; Rapid City, S.D.; and St. Petersburg, Fla., during the second year. As the model has rapidly spread to cities around the country, NLC has provided assistance to additional cities beyond this initial cohort, helping bring the total number of cities developing Bank On campaigns to nearly 70.

Early results from cities that have launched Bank On initiatives have been promising. According to the most recent data available, more than 100,000 new bank accounts were opened in California cities alone, and about 75,000 new accounts have been opened in five of the early Bank On cities: San Francisco, Calif. (more than 40,000 accounts); Houston, Texas (31,462 accounts); Seattle, Wash. (approximately 4,000 accounts); and Savannah, Ga. (584 accounts).

The average monthly balance for these accounts ranges from $500 to $1,500, and the retention rate averages more than 80 percent. Program participants are also utilizing financial education and counseling services to help them move up the financial stability ladder.

As the Bank On Cities Campaign grows, the YEF Institute will continue to help cities incorporate the best practices and lessons learned from successful programs. The Institute is also working closely with the U.S. Department of Treasury and federal financial instution regulators to further refine the Bank On field and improve learning opportunities for local leaders that will help them create new opportunities to reach financially underserved families.

Bank On Cities Toolkit
A new toolkit published by the YEF Institute provides municipal leaders with a step-by-step guide for launching a Bank On initiative. All local officials can download the toolkit online. A limited number of print copies are available for cities that are planning to initiate or enhance a Bank On program.