San Francisco Meeting Spotlights New Municipal Financial Empowerment Strategies

San Francisco Event
San Francisco Event

by Denise Belser

City leadership in promoting financial inclusion and family economic success has changed significantly over the past 10 years. More than ever, municipal leaders are playing key roles in ensuring access to low or no-cost banking services, financial education, anti-predatory lending resources, free tax preparation services, free credit counseling and other supports for families who operate on the fringe of an increasingly complex financial system.

As part of a family economic empowerment initiative that began four years ago, NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) has been providing cities with in-depth technical assistance and helping them bring innovative local efforts to scale. Through this project, NLC has served as a catalyst in supporting the establishment of more than 50 local "Bank On" programs that connect unbanked and underbanked residents with mainstream financial services. The YEF Institute has also drawn upon this work to publish a toolkit that offers cities a step-by-step guide for launching a Bank On program as well as a scan of the Bank On field commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

To continue advancing a dialogue among local officials about how to empower families financially in communities with varying political, economic and financial climates, the YEF Institute recently convened representatives of 19 cities for a two-day strategy session in San Francisco.

"The convening gave us some great ideas about how to implement strategies that will help build financial stability for Kalamazoo's residents, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate," said Kalamazoo, Mich., Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell. "Having the opportunity to hear real examples of strategies that worked from other cities was invaluable."

Pathways to Scale and Sustainability

City teams attending the convening, which was co-sponsored by Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) with support from the Ford Foundation, embraced specific strategies that they could initiate upon returning home, such as incorporating one-on-one financial counseling into financial education programs, establishing children's savings accounts and identifying new partnerships to offer peer-to-peer, no-cost, credit-building loan programs as an alternative emergency source of funding for families who rely on payday lenders, pawn shops and other predatory outlets.

National experts and city leaders shared their expertise on a variety of topics ranging from data collection and evaluation to new partnership strategies. Participants agreed on the importance of stronger, more aligned partnerships, dedicated capacity to support a financial empowerment agenda and service integration strategies to make a greater impact on the lives of residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

New York City Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Jonathan Mintz and San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros led an inspiring plenary session about local challenges and the future of the municipal financial empowerment field.

Last year, New York City embraced a holistic approach for integrating financial empowerment strategies into a range of human services provided by the city. Referred to as the "supervitamin" approach, this concept resonated with participants who are wrestling with how to connect the dots between traditional human services (such as services to victims of domestic violence) and their Earned Income Tax Credit outreach and Bank On programs. New York's Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) is making headway by forging strategic partnerships with a broad array of stakeholders.

San Francisco eventIn San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee and Treasurer Cisneros are gearing up for the launch of CurrenC SF, a new electronic payroll initiative that will encourage every business in the city to pay their employees electronically through direct deposit services as a first step in enhancing the financial security of all San Franciscans. The city is also promoting payroll cards as an alternative to direct deposit, which will allow workers to withdraw their pay in full and get cash back from point-of-sale transactions.

Cities Roll up their Sleeves

Participants left the convening with two to three action items to pursue upon returning home. Virginia Beach, Va., leaders hope to increase the rate at which residents save money as a short-term outcome but are also striving to put families on a firmer road to economic security by raising credit scores and lowering personal debt levels. Establishing an OFE and engaging the business community are high on the city's priority list.

In Omaha, Neb., local leaders will try to bring current financial empowerment initiatives to scale and incorporate their efforts into the work of social service agencies such as the department of public health.

"I came to San Francisco hoping to learn more about how to combat predatory lending in Dallas," said Councilman Jerry Allen of Dallas, Texas. "What I came away with was information about a holistic set of strategies that can financially empower Dallas residents, such as broadening partnerships to include nonprofit organizations and the faith-based community to establish a financial education network and develop a financial empowerment center for residents. As always, the NLC is a flashlight that continues to lead my way."

Details: To learn more about the YEF Institute's financial empowerment initiatives, or contact Laura Fischer at (202) 626-3056 or

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