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Assets & Opportunity Network TA Fund: Integrating Financial Coaching to Meet Clients & Staff Where They Are

By Kori Hattemer and Fran Rosebush on 03/05/2015 @ 10:30 AM

Tags: A&O Initiative, Financial Empowerment, Integrated Service Delivery

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro), an Assets & Opportunity Network Lead Local Organization, applied to the A&O Network Technical Assistance (TA) Fund to expand financial coaching services throughout their departments and programs. Wayne Metro worked with A&O Network staff to evaluate the readiness of staff to integrate financial coaching into their service delivery and create a training plan for financial coaches and other staff.

Through an online financial needs survey of staff and in-person listening sessions with staff and clients conducted by the A&O Network team, Wayne Metro learned more about their current client-staff interactions and what staff needed to integrate financial coaching into those interactions.

Assessment of Wayne Metro Staff and Clients

Key takeaways from the survey of staff and conversations with staff and clients included:

  • Staff members understood their clients’ financial challenges and were committed to helping clients build financial security.
  • Staff members already discussed financial issues with clients and helped them access financial resources, but they want more knowledge, resources and skills to improve their confidence and ability to help clients address financial issues. Specifically, staff want a deeper understanding of financial topics and coaching skills they could use to help staff change their attitudes about money, make informed decisions about long-term financial products and establish behaviors that help them work toward financial goals.
  • Staff responsibilities vary broadly by program, so a multi-tiered training approach would help ensure that staff receive the specific training and resources they need.
  • Staff members want training on managing their own personal finances, but a large number shared that they did not want to discuss these topics with their peers and instead prefer online training options that they could complete at their own pace.

Financial Coaching Training

A&O Network and Wayne Metro staff used this information from staff and clients to develop the multi-tiered financial coaching training depicted in the image on the right. Instead of providing extensive financial coaching training to all staff, Wayne Metro identified the key types of information and skills that different groups of staff need. Financial coaches were the only staff who needed financial coaching expertise, and they wanted a training that offered credentials. Program managers only needed an understanding of the basics of financial empowerment since they aren’t working directly with clients, and they wanted personal finance information they could use in their daily lives. Direct service providers needed basic financial coaching skills they could use in interactions with clients along with a baseline of financial empowerment information, and they also wanted information they could use to manage their own finances.

Financial Coaching Training Resources

A&O Network and Wayne Metro staff identified the following resources for providing this training:

  • Financial coaching: A list of training providers is available in Financial Coaching Training Curricula: Field Inventory and Summary Brief by the Center for Financial Security. JPMorgan Chase & Co. offered scholarships for 16 Wayne Metro staff to attend the NeighborWorks financial coaching training in Detroit. After the training, one of the housing counselors who work with homeless youth was really excited about incorporating what she learned into her work. She said that now she is less focused on numbers and more focused on each person’s goals and how to meet them. Wayne Metro is also working with local partners to figure out how to bring the Central New Mexico Community College financial coaching training program to Detroit so more of their staff can be trained.
  • Basics of financial empowerment: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides trainings on their financial empowerment toolkit for social services staff, Your Money, Your Goals (YMYG). Two Wayne Metro staff attended the day-long training on YMYG before CFED’s Assets Learning Conference, and 12 additional staff members attended a two-hour online webinar.
  • Personal financial management: Free curricula options Wayne Metro considered include Money Smart by the FDIC, Hands on Banking by Wells Fargo and Better Money Habits by Bank of America, among others. A local FDIC partner conducted a train-the-trainer on the Money Smart curriculum for 24 Wayne Metro staff, including financial coaches and staff who are new to financial capability services. Wayne Metro reported that this training helped give all staff a similar language to use when talking about financial capability.
  • Ongoing support: In addition to trainings, Wayne Metro staff expressed an interest in more opportunities to share resources and discuss challenges with peers in their program and in other programs across the organization. Wayne Metro plans to achieve this through cross-program meetings and an internal listerv.

Wayne Metro continues to explore opportunities to build the capacity of their staff to provide financial coaching. They are also focused on making connections between departments and staff more formalized so that staff can work together to help low-income members of their community achieve financial security.

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Opinion: Solving Wealth Inequality Requires Predatory Lending Reform

By Andrea Levere on 03/03/2015 @ 02:30 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Federal Policy, Financial Empowerment

EDITOR'S NOTE: This opinion piece by CFED President Andrea Levere originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The economic recovery has not benefited Americans equally. We all know that. But few facts underscore that point more clearly than the startling number of consumers whose financial futures have been put on hold by subprime credit scores.

A recent analysis released by my organization found that more than half of the nation's consumers (56 percent) have subprime scores, meaning they cannot qualify for credit or financing at prime rates when they try to get a mortgage, buy a car or take out a loan for other purposes. They also are far more likely to use costly alternatives such as payday loans.

One in five households regularly relies on these fringe financial services, according to that same study - CFED's 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. With their astronomical interest rates averaging just under 400 percent, the vast majority of borrowers cannot afford to pay off the loans within the allotted two-week period. Instead, they are forced to roll over the loans multiple times, incurring further debt and high fees, and creating a cycle of debt.

It's hardly a surprise that the economic recovery barely registers in the lives of these families, many of whom are struggling in low-wage jobs with little ability to save or make financial plans beyond paying off their next costly small-dollar loan. Despite the perception that these loans are most often used to pay for unplanned one-time costs, a Pew study found that most (69 percent) cover recurring expenses such as utilities, credit card bills, rent or mortgage, and food.

There is wide acknowledgement that reform is needed. But given the high number of consumers with subprime credit scores, those efforts need to rise to emergency response levels.

At the federal level, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should quickly release payday loan regulations, which have been in the works for more than a year. These regulations should ensure that payday lenders are subject to underwriting standards that ensure borrowers only receive loans they can afford to pay and that they are given a minimum of 90 days to repay them. The practice by many lenders of requiring post-dated checks or authorization to automatically withdraw money from the borrower's bank account should also be prohibited or significantly limited. These practices can trigger overdraft fees for the borrowers, effectively raising the cost of the loan.

CFPB should open the way for innovation in this area as well so that payday loans aren't the only option for consumers with poor credit. This means supporting research and the evaluation of new or experimental short‐term, small‐dollar loan products that help borrowers improve their financial situation while also potentially offering a profit to lenders.

Creative small-dollar loan programs already are helping subprime consumers in communities nationwide but need to be expanded. These programs are typically offered by credit unions and nonprofits, which partner with private lenders, to provide lower cost payday alternatives to consumers with poor credit.

The programs can be life changing for consumers like Lillie Hall, who was deep in debt when she came to CommunityWorks, a South Carolina nonprofit, after her husband's work hours were reduced and she fell victim to identity theft. Hall had a good job and stable income as a community systems director for the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control, but it wasn't enough to cover the mounting bills and growing debt. When banks turned her down, payday loans seemed her only choice until she learned of the CommunityWorks credit union program, which quickly approved her for a loan at 16 percdent interest -- far below the nearly 400 percent rate charged by payday lenders. The CommunityWorks loan allowed her to start paying off debt, which had included $4,000 owed on $800 in payday loans, and reduce her monthly debt payment by $465.

Programs like CommunityWorks educate consumers about how to better manage their finances and potentially move into loan products that are more profitable for the lender. An FDIC pilot program found that banks offering affordable small-dollar loans helped build long-term customer relationships and were no more likely to result in defaults than other types of unsecured credit.

States also need to take more decisive action. Colorado banned lump-sum payday loans in 2010 and replaced them with six-month installment loans. Although interest rates remain high, total fees and interest payments over the course of a loan dropped by 42%. And credit is still available to those who need it: average loan sizes actually increased, and there were just 7% fewer borrowers.

If government leaders are serious about addressing wealth and income inequality, much needed reforms to draconian payday lending practices would be an excellent place to start. For millions of Americans struggling with poor credit, waiting is not an option.

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How Crowdfunding Connects Us

By Jonny Price, Guest Contributor on 03/03/2015 @ 12:30 PM

Tags: Children's Savings Accounts, Matched Savings

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post originally appeared on the 1:1 Fund blog and was authored by 1:1 Fund Advisory Committee Member Jonny Price.

In late 2011, Kiva Zip launched as a pilot program within the microfinance lending platform Kiva.org. With Kiva Zip, we aimed to make loans directly to small business owners, rather than having microfinance institutions administer loans. The Kiva Zip pilot had three principles at launch:

  1. Expand access to microloan capital for small business owners that conventional lenders might be unwilling or unable to lend to. Lower the cost of that capital for small business owners – e.g. through lower interest rates and fees.
  2. More closely connect our community of over a million lenders with the borrowers they generously make loans to.
  3. Over the past three years, Kiva Zip has adapted constantly. Yet these three principles have endured. They apply not only to Kiva, but to most crowdfunding platforms. Let’s consider them in the context of Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs).

Courtesy: Kiva Zip

1. Expanding Access

For the financially vulnerable populations that the 1:1 Fund supports, the establishment of a college savings account in a child’s name can significantly increase the likelihood that that child will go to college. In fact, studies show that low-income children with $500 or less in a savings account are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate than their peers without accounts. By matching the college savings of students and families, philanthropic crowdfunding helps expand those families’ access to education.

Mississippi CSA Program savers at the bank.

2. Lowering Costs

Crowdfunding can also help lower the cost of a good or service. Consider how Wikipedia has made encyclopedias free, or how Airbnb can make a night in a “hotel” much cheaper. In the finance sector, LendingClub and Prosper are trying to leverage a crowd of investors (as well as technology) to lower interest rates for their borrowers. On the Kiva Zip team, our borrower interest rates are 0%, with no fees. Similarly, by financing children’s savings, crowdfunding might lower the cost of philanthropic capital by reducing onerous reporting requirements. Individuals tend to have less stringent stipulations about exactly how their $25 donations are deployed than, for example, a local government making a $10,000 grant. Sure, there are costs to the crowdfunding model: for example, developing and maintaining the requisite technology platform and managing customer service queries from thousands of individual donors. But if you’ve ever done your taxes yourself or tried to apply for a Green Card (as I'm currently doing), you’ll know that government forms can get pretty long!

3. Connecting

Finally, crowdfunding connects people. Our Kiva Zip borrowers frequently tell us that even better than the zero-interest microloan they received was the sense of community that they felt when hundreds of strangers from all around the world made a small loan to their business. Now, imagine if savings account-holders and their families knew that their matching funds came from a community of hundreds of individual people who wanted them to succeed. The crowdfunding model can be very emotionally encouraging and empowering.

A New Paradigm

It’s that last benefit of crowdfunding that I am personally most excited about. Over the last two centuries, railways and airplanes—and then mobile phones and Facebook—have enabled us to connect and communicate with people on the other side of the planet. This century, crowdfunding gives us the power to reimagine our transactional, profit-oriented financial system. Soon, perhaps we can replace our current system with a paradigm that restores the value of human connections and personal relationships.

Jonny Price is the Senior Director of Kiva Zip and a member of the 1:1 Fund Advisory Committee.

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VITA Awareness Day National Media Effort: March 10, 2015

By J.C. Craig on 03/03/2015 @ 10:30 AM

Tags: Taxpayer Opportunity Network

Volunteers at a VITA site in Texas.

Across the country, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs assist low-income communities in preparing their taxes for free and help them take advantage of wealth-building tax credits. Tuesday, March 10, is VITA Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, the Taxpayer Opportunity Network will work to draw attention to the services and impact of the volunteers who provide tax assistance through VITA and related programs. We encourage you to leverage this effort by planning activities for VITA Awareness Day and throughout the entire week.

VITA Awareness Day has three goals:

  1. Generate good publicity for VITA, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) programs and volunteer tax assistance in general.
  2. Provide a bump in service demand at the beginning of the “March lull”—the time when VITA and TCE programs are likely to have more capacity to serve taxpayers.
  3. Demonstrate the value of volunteer tax assistance in the congressional districts most critical to VITA, TCE and LITC grant appropriation.

What you can do? There are several ways to leverage this moment for your program:

  • Have taxpayer stories ready to share with your local media.
  • Invite your congressional representatives or other policymakers to tax sites on Tuesday, March 10, or other times during that week.
  • Invite key stakeholders like your local funders to tax sites.
  • Request that local officials recognize the hard work and contributions of your volunteers on March 10 with an official proclamation.
  • Be ready to share data about your results to share via a press release. This could include the refunds generated by your program last year and number of volunteers in your program.
  • Use hashtag #VITAWorks on social media. Tweet, Facebook, Instagram and blog about your volunteers and taxpayers.
  • Celebrate with your volunteers:
    • Take a moment mid-season to recognize and celebrate their hard work.
    • Providing food is always good, but asking board members and your organization’s directors to visit and thank volunteers can be an effective, no-cost means of recognition.
    • Board members and organization staff can help keep any press or media presence from disrupting operations.

There are several resources available for Taxpayer Opportunity Network members:

  • Today’s webinar on gathering and creating taxpayer stories, which will feature advice on collecting and telling stories from experts at The Hatcher Group.
  • Social media outreach kit, which includes sample Tweets and Facebook updates for spreading the word about VITA
  • Resources for VITA Awareness Day in the Taxpayer Opportunity Network Library
  • A national data release on March 10 highlighting the valuable impact of volunteer tax assistance

Membership in the Taxpayer Opportunity Network is free and available to any person interested in learning more about our work. Please encourage your colleagues to join and help us keep volunteer tax assistance growing and vibrant.

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New Report Dampens Outlook for Would-Be Homebuyers

By Doug Ryan on 03/02/2015 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: Housing and Homeownership

Photo credit: Flickr user Mason Masteka, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Editor's Note: This most recent blog post was originally published in Rooflines

While few housing advocates have unbridled hopes for truly affordable homeownership in Manhattan—where in order to live “comfortably,” a family of four needs nearly $170,000 in income—the recent reporting of the New York Times on the super-rich’s use of shell corporations to buy $19 million apartments should still at least startle us.

For far too many of everyone else, homes are beyond their budgets, and the hope of homeownership is compromised by largely stagnant earnings and damaged credit.

In January, CFED released its annual Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, which measures 135 policy and outcome areas in five different categories: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education. Many of the measures rise and fall with the national and local economies, but also reflect on how narrow and shallow the recovery has been.

The major findings of the report suggest that the rebound has not extended evenly across demographics. As in 2013, the national poverty rate last year was 14 percent, reflecting the lack of wage growth and good employment opportunities in certain communities. Another hangover of the recession has been the hit Americans’ credit has taken: 56 percent of consumers have subprime credit, making borrowing an expensive choice to finance life’s necessities let alone anything even vaguely entertaining.

As a key to most families’ wealth, for household balance sheets to improve, so must homeownership across various markets. There is some good news, though. For example,delinquent loans are down in the United States. Likewise, foreclosures have droppedconsiderably, in part because 32 states have moved to assist families in crisis. Nevertheless, homeownership, at 63.5 percent, is at levels not seen since the early 1990s. And while CFED and others do not advocate for anything but safe loans based on the ability to repay and other good underwriting, this trend is not only concerning, but also meshes with other trends in the market.

Communities of color have been hit particularly hard. Such households have a 45 percent homeownership rate, compared to 71 percent for white families. The recession worsenedan already unequal wealth distribution across race. Major news outlets are reporting this crisis, but we have to first learn the lessons of the past, both negative and positive, before we can truly move forward.

The use of high-cost mortgages, as defined by the Home Ownership Equity Protection Act (HOEPA), are on the rise in 42 states. Eight states have reduced support for first-time homebuyers in such areas as counseling, which can be critical to successful homeownership, though additional research is certainly needed. Perhaps the federal government, through the efforts of the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will give first-time homebuyers some needed assistance, which can counter, to a point, bad policy choices at the state level.

Much what has been behind our nation’s new reticence on homeownership may be due to the discredited meme in some circles that mortgages to low- and moderate-income buyers, spurred on by reckless federal policies, caused the meltdown. Slowly but surely, national media are acknowledging the research that shows the facts are very different than the storyline laid out in some circles.

We know that solid underwriting and servicing can lead to successful homeownership andwealth building. We also know that poor underwriting, predatory lending and under-regulated market players each greatly contributed to the wealth stripping of communities across the country.

As we start to rethink our approach to homeownership, repairing the wealth gap and shoring up communities, policymakers and advocates need to focus on the basics. Wage growth; strong, clear and consistent regulatory regimes; and the development of transparency in the marketplace are needed so consumers can make reasonable choices about their futures. And you thought this would be hard.

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Reflections on the Historical Roots of the Racial Wealth Gap

By Alicia Atkinson on 02/27/2015 @ 04:30 PM

Tags: Recommended Reading, Federal Policy

“Two-hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, June 2014

Probably like many people who work in the beltway, my family has no idea what I do for a living. My mom still calls me when she hears the word “policy” on NPR in the morning in an attempt to assure herself that my job really does exist. Despite public policy’s omnipresence in our lives--from workplace safety to transportation to banking regulations--people, like my mom, often don’t know the impact that policy has on our daily lives.

Unless an issue has captured America’s attention, policy tends to be relatively behind-the-scenes. CFED’s policy team focuses on various, and sometimes invisible policy levers, that builds assets, such as savings or higher education or purchasing a house. We do this partly by looking at the tax system or the workforce development system to see how we can leverage different mechanisms that can help people to save and invest in key asset-building purchases in order to become financially stable.

While we tend to focus on the present, we are heavily invested in reversing some of the detrimental policies of the past that actively worked against certain people, specifically people of color, to build assets and wealth. The repercussions of these historical policies can still be seen today with communities of color having lower homeownership rates, lower access to tax-deferred retirement accounts, higher student debt, lower inheritances and lower-overall wealth. The result: a new report from the Urban Institute shows that white families have around 12 times the wealth of African- American families and 10 times the wealth of Hispanic families.

What were some of these historical policies that contribute to this unacceptable wealth-gap today? In Ta-Nehisi Coates June 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations,” he chronicles some of these historical events that actively disenfranchised black households, leaving them out of key income and wealth building opportunities. These span from times in slavery to present day and include:

  • Wage-theft: As slaves, African- Americans missed out on years of income and wealth building. Their labor was free and many white Americans accumulated massive amounts of wealth off this free labor. For example, “in 1860 there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the country.” Even after African-Americans were “freed” legally from slavery, they were forced to work on the same land and continued to undergo substantial wage-theft.
  • Housing: For 30 years, households of color were cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market, partly due to the Federal Housing Authorities active redlining of certain communities, and forced to work with contract sellers. Contract sellers demanded a hefty downpayment and high monthly payments, but gave households no equity until the entire house was paid off. If residents missed one payment, they were evicted and did not see any money returned to them. Today, households of color, particularly black households, continue to face barriers to homeownership. Recent research showed that an application from a black mortgage applicant was 2.4 times more likely to be denied compared to an application from a white applicant.
  • Property Values: For black households that were able to find a way to purchase a home in a racist housing system, many were often forced into certain communities and if they were able to purchase in mostly-white community than they experienced white flight, which dramatically decreased their property values. What was one of the repercussions of this? Research showed that black families making $100,000 typically live in neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.
  • Education: The G.I. bill that was a key source of assistance to many veterans, completely failed black veterans. Researchers have stated that the racism in the VA offices pretty much made this bill obsolete to black veterans returning from war.
  • Retirement: Historically and presently, households of color have hit barriers to accessing key retirement benefits. In 1935, 65% of African Americans nationally were ineligible for social security. Many households of color are still missing out on retirement opportunities, and research has shown that they are less likely to have access to tax-deferred retirement accounts, the main source of retirement income now-a-days.
  • Health Care: The recent passing of the ACA expanded health care coverage for millions of individuals. However, many southern, and former confederate states, have refused to expand Medicaid, creating a hole in coverage for many impoverished individuals.

Each minority group in the United States has undergone their share of wealth depleting policies or lack of policy, such as internment for the Japanese, massive land theft from Native Americans or the large rates of wage theft for immigrants who struggle to find formal employment, that has contributed to having lower-wealth and less financial security overall.

Despite broad and deep notions that we all have succeeded without assistance, history demonstrates that policy has assisted some while actively prohibiting others from building wealth and assets. While policy can seem like a foreign or often invisible thing to many, the implications and impact of it are real and have a lasting effect. Policy is not just about influencing lives now but also for righting the wrongs of history. The racial wealth gap is one of those wrongs that policy actively contributed to in the past, and in the present, and policymakers, practitioners and advocates should be focused on reversing policy’s detrimental impact.

As we near the end of Black History month and ask how policy can improve economic opportunity, we must not forget about the past and the influence it had on the state of households now, especially households of color. It’s time we start acknowledging the long-term outcomes of these detrimental policies and put closing the racial wealth gap at the top of our policy agendas.

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Asset Building News Round Up: February 27, 2015

Posted on 02/27/2015 @ 02:00 PM

Events

Color of Wealth Summit
Center for Global Policy Solutions, April 29-30, 2015, Washington D.C.
The summit seeks to engage Members of Congress, Congressional staff, the media, and the public in a dialogue about the racial wealth gap, its effect on marginalized households, its impact on the U.S. economy, and solutions for closing the gap. Registration now open!

News

From the Motley Fool: Tax-advantaged plans are popular ways to save for retirement. However, rules for these plans can change, and one recent proposal from President Obama is getting a lot of attention. Read more here.

From the CSRWire: The Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co. today announced a $3 million competition for technology innovators working to address consumer financial challenges. This cross-sector initiative will identify technology-enabled financial solutions and provide winners with direct and indirect support to test and expand the availability of their products and services to consumers. Read more here.

From the Baltimore Sun: More than 1 million working Maryland residents have virtually no retirement savings, contributing to a looming public calamity that report released Tuesday called a "silver tsunami." Read more here.

From Forbes: Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler asked a colleague an interesting question on Twitter last week: “Do Fed policy discussions ever address record income inequality that is a direct result of asset prices they’re inflating?” The question has a curious context these days. Income inequality has suddenly become all the rage on both sides of the traditional political divide. Read more here.

CFED Story Bank Updates

Here are three great stories highlighting the power of college savings and the 1:1 Fund.

From Kindergarden to College: Imelda and Elias Paredes have big dreams for their two kids, Samuel and Cesia. Elias explains, “We want them to go to college because we didn’t go ourselves.” Read more here.

From Nevada College Kick Start: Jazlynn Torres, a kindergartener at Silver Lake Elementary School in Reno, Nevada, has an unusual favorite subject: “learning!” Her aunt, Marissa Torres, describes Jazlynn as a “very energetic child” who loves to swim, dance, and rhyme (her favorite rhyme is "cat and bat"). Read more here.

From Children’s Aid Society: Miguel plans to be a zoologist when he grows up, although with his recent savings success he might want to consider a career change to fundraiser! After receiving a college savings account through The Children's Aid Society’s (CAS) College Savers Program, Miguel launched his own fundraising campaign. Read more here.

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Newly Released Regulations Provide Clarity for Financial Institutions Developing Youth Savings Programs

By Leigh Tivol on 02/27/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Children’s Savings Accounts, Economic Inclusion

Wednesday, the Financial Literacy Education Commission (FLEC) convened to discuss youth savings programs, bringing together experts from both the practice and policy realms to discuss opportunities and barriers to bringing children’s savings initiatives to scale. Key themes from the discussion included:

  • Leveraging teachable moments: Practitioners and policymakers agree that embedding savings into platforms like school-based banks and youth employment initiatives creates powerful integration points to leverage as younger kids first begin to handle money and older youth experience receiving their first paycheck.
  • Hands-on components help lessons “stick”: Research has shown that pairing financial education with real-life savings opportunities, such as opening a bank account has a longer-term effect.
  • School-based initiatives require strong partnerships and buy-in: Panelists reflected on the importance of relationship-building when it comes to engaging schools, financial institutions and others to provide robust programs for students. This work takes champions at each stage – and while that’s not always easy, it’s essential.

The conversation was particularly timely given an important set of newly released regulatory guidance for financial institutions interested in providing products to be used in youth savings programs.  The guidance provides much-needed clarity on the rules about opening savings accounts in the context of youth savings programs and, we hope, will make it much easier for financial institutions to offer savings products that both meet the needs of young savers and allow program administrators to open and manage large numbers of accounts with ease. The guidance was a joint effort of multiple regulatory institutions, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), the National Credit Union Administration NCUA) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

CFED helps our partners across the country design and launch a wide range of child savings initiatives – and our experience has been that it’s often a significant challenge to find savings products that include all the necessary features for efficient program administration, such as the ability to open accounts automatically for large numbers of kids. We’re delighted to see this new guidance come to light and are hopeful that it will be a powerful new tool in bringing the fast-growing youth savings field to even greater scale.

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Research Works to Define Financial Well-Being

By Emily Hoagland and Kasey Wiedrich on 02/25/2015 @ 01:30 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Financial Empowerment, Data and Research

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released Financial Well-Being: The Goal of Financial Education. In this groundbreaking research, the CFPB partnered with CFED—which led a team of external researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security, the Urban Institute, ICF International and Vector Psychometrics—to develop a definition of financial well-being and explore the factors that contribute to it in order to gain a better understanding how people develop financial capability.

The CFPB—like CFED and many of our partners—has long been interested in determining how people gain financial literacy and what role financial capability plays in financial well-being. Having some savings and a reliable income are important factors in achieving positive financial well-being, but clearly do not tell the whole story. To identify the other important pieces, the team of researchers performed an extensive literature review and then went out into the field to interview consumers and practitioners from across the country about their financial lives—the financial outcomes they’d achieved and the approaches they’d used to achieve them.

What emerged from this research was a nuanced and complex definition of financial well-being, comprised of four major elements:

  • Feeling in control of finances. Experiencing a high level of financial well-being means feeling like day-to-day and month-to-month finances are under control—major expenses are covered, bills get paid on time and there is no need to worry about having enough money to get by.
  • Having the capacity to absorb a financial shock. Life can be unpredictable, but there is always the chance that something will happen that will have a negative financial impact. Having a safety net of social resources, savings and insurance products helps mitigate unexpected financial upsets.
  • Being on track to meet financial goals. Even without a detailed financial plan, having set financial goals (such as buying a house or saving every month) and being on track to meet them likely translates into higher levels of financial well-being.
  • Having the flexibility to make choices that allow for life to be enjoyed. People with high levels of financial well-being have the financial freedom to make choices that allow them to enjoy life. This flexibility means going on vacation or splurging once in a while –spending some money on “wants” instead of just on “needs.”

Along with developing the above definition, this work also examined what factors influence financial well-being and found that there are particular types of knowledge, behavior and personal traits that seem to help people achieve higher levels of financial well-being. These include:

  • Performing financial research, planning and goal-setting and habitually living within one’s means.
  • Knowing how to find and process financial information and how to execute financial decisions.
  • Having an internal frame of reference, and a tendency to plan ahead.
  • Believing in one’s own ability to affect financial outcomes and persevering even when encountering obstacles.

Taken together, these findings represent a significant step forward for those seeking to improve the financial well-being of vulnerable Americans. Having established an understanding of what financial well-being is, the CFPB research now enables us to examine what set of approaches can boost financial well-being. CFED is grateful for the CFPB’s commitment to this research, as well as for the opportunity to partner with them and the rest of the team who brought this research to life.

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Factory-Built Housing Course at Kansas City NeighborWorks Training Institute

By Megan Neff, Guest Contributor on 02/24/2015 @ 03:30 PM

Tags: Events

Are you going to the NeighborWorks Training Institute in Kansas City this May? If you are, don’t miss Next Step’s new and improved course, CP135: Successful Construction Using Factory-Built Homes.

This two-day course will be taught May 7-8 by Amy Barnard, Next Step Marketing & Operations Specialist, and George Porter, President of Manufactured Housing Resources and Field Construction Consultant at Next Step.

In the course, you’ll get hooked up with tools designed specifically to assist nonprofits with the factory-built housing construction process. We’ll cover steps from home ordering to planning to turn key completion of manufactured and modular homes. You will leave equipped to translate your site-built construction expertise into supervising successful construction using factory-built homes.

This class is open to all, and is highly recommended for those considering applying to the Next Step Network and current Next Step Network Members. Register online at nw.org/onlinereg

NeighborWorks Training Institutes offer training, certification, networking opportunities and other resources to professionals who work in community development and affordable housing. Want to get a taste of NeighborWorks training to see if it’s right for you? Check out this NTI Minute, a one-minute highlight videos that gives you a taste of what NeighborWorks has to offer in the field of affordable housing development: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhjtPKst_Sw

  • NeighborWorks Organization (NWO) Slot Registration Deadline: March
  • Early Bird Registration Deadline for Non-NWOs: March 23
  • Pre-registration for Non-NWOs & NWOs Opting to Pay-Own-Expense: April 13

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CFSI, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Launch Financial Solutions Lab

By Sean Luechtefeld on 02/24/2015 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: Financial Empowerment

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re pleased to share this announcement from our friends at the Center for Financial Services Innovation and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The Financial Solutions Lab is an important step toward addressing the cash flow challenges facing consumers. We’re proud to support the Financial Solutions Lab, the Advisory Council for which CFED President Andrea Levere is a member.

The Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co. today announced a $3 million competition for technology innovators working to address consumer financial challenges. This cross-sector initiative will identify technology-enabled financial solutions and provide winners with direct and indirect support to test and expand the availability of their products and services to consumers. 

The challenge, opening today, will be the first in a series and invites innovators to submit financial product and service solutions that help households better manage their finances on a tight budget. Vulnerable consumers can get caught in a cycle of debt when relying on alternative services, like payday lenders or check cashing institutions, while trying to make ends meet in the days between when income comes in and bills are due. CFSI has identified the timing mismatch between household income and expenses as one of the greatest financial challenges facing low- to moderate-income families.

In fact, CFSI’s 2013 Financially Underserved Market Size Report found that Americans spent $36.5 billion in one year on credit and transaction products to address this challenge. Additionally, over one hundred million Americans struggle with balancing their household finances and forty-three percent of Americans struggle to pay their bills.

“Millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet often juggling uneven income and unpredictable expenses,” said Jennifer Tescher, CEO of CFSI. “Through the Financial Solutions Lab we want to identify and support innovators who are working to meet consumer needs with meaningful, scalable solutions. The Lab will help build the next generation of financial products and services to improve consumer financial health.”

From February 24 until April 7, 2015, the Financial Solutions Lab will accept applications from innovative entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations competing to receive up to $250,000 in capital, along with national partnership opportunities, industry expertise, mentorship, and cutting-edge consumer and design insights necessary to power the next generation of leading financial services innovations. Solutions from approximately eight winning organizations will embrace consumer-friendly design, promote consumer success, build trust, and create opportunity in order to generate mutual benefit for providers and consumers.

mutual benefit for providers and consumers. Winners will be selected by an expert, cross-sector group including leaders from JPMorgan Chase, CFSI, and strategic partners in human-centered design, behavioral economics, community outreach and for-profit entrepreneurship. Winners will be announced at CFSI’s Emerge Conference on June 11th.

“The personal financial security of individuals impacts the financial health of their household, their community and the overall economy,” said Janis Bowdler, Head of Financial Capability at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “That is why JPMorgan Chase is committed to supporting innovators who share our goal of helping low- to moderate-income consumers better manage their daily financial lives, improve resiliency and promote economic security.” JPMorgan Chase’s support of the Financial Solutions Lab is a part of its broader commitment to helping people better understand and manage their finances to secure their futures.

Financial Solutions Lab Led by Experts in Finance, Technology, and Human-Centered Design

CFSI and JPMorgan Chase also today announced the Lab’s Advisory Council, a group of industry leaders from the financial services, technology, academia, and investment community who will provide overall strategic guidance and resources to Lab competition winners. In addition to the strategic direction they provide on the Lab, the Advisory Council will play an integral part in guiding the success of the winning innovations to ensure they meet the needs of consumers and can be made widely available. They include:

  • Paul Breloff, Managing Director, Accion Venture Lab
  • Kosta Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Jennifer Tescher, President and CEO, CFSI
  • Susan Ehrlich, Board of Directors, CFSI
  • Arjan Schütte, Founder and Managing Partner, Core Innovation Capital
  • Jonathan Mintz, Founding President and CEO, Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund
  • Andrea Levere, President, Corporation for Enterprise Development
  • Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
  • Eldar Shafir, Scientific Director and Co-Founder, Ideas42
  • Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO
  • Barry Saik, SVP and GM, Consumer Ecosystem Group, Intuit
  • Dalila Wilson-Scott, President, JPMorgan Chase Foundation
  • Ben Knelman, CEO and Co-Founder, Juntos Finanzas
  • Ben Jealous, Partner, Kapor Capital
  • Ann Lamont, Managing Partner, Oak Investment Partners
  • Chris Bishko, Partner, Omidyar Network
  • Caribou Honig, Partner, QED Investors
  • Cheryl Porro, SVP of Tech and Product, Salesforce Foundation
  • Michael Barr, Professor of Law, University of Michigan
  • Suzi Sosa, Founder and CEO, Verb

"We know that the challenges posed by financial insecurity can have a profound impact on individuals and families. I'm heartened by the Financial Solutions Lab's efforts to improve the financial health of low-income people and impressed that they have begun with a focus on household liquidity," said Eldar Shafir, the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Scientific Director and Co-Founder of ideas42, a non-profit organization leading the applications of behavioral science to do social good and have impact at scale.

"The Financial Solutions Lab is a great example of the practical application of human-centered design to address the challenges everyday Americans face and to create real impact, “said Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO. “I'm honored to be a part of this cross-sector group of experts and I'm looking forward to working closely with the innovators who participate in the Lab.”

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Why You Should Participate in America Saves Week

By Katie Bryan on 02/23/2015 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: Events

America Saves Week, February 23 - 28, 2015, is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.

Through partners like you, millions of individuals learn the importance of saving. We need your help to encourage more Americans to build wealth, not debt. Show your commitment to help others save by joining America Saves Week today. By joining America Saves Week you will be listed as a participating organization and will receive news and updates on America Saves Week.

Ready to Help Others Save?

  1. Join America Saves Week

How to Participate

From promoting the benefits of savings to employees - to offering incentives for people to open or add money to savings accounts - to holding workshops and developing new partnerships - there are so many ways to help people take financial action during the Week. Learn more about what your organization can do during the Week at the links below.

Questions about the Week?

Nancy Register
Director, America Saves
nregister@consumerfed.org
202-387-6121

Katie Bryan
Communications Director, America Saves
kbryan@consumerfed.org
202-939-1018

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Asset Building News Round Up: February 20, 2015

By Paul Day on 02/20/2015 @ 03:00 PM

Tags: News

Events

America Saves Week
February 23 – 28, 2015, The Consumer Federation of America

The week is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status. Over 800 organizations, from academic institutions and nonprofits to government agencies and financial institutions, have signed up to participate this year. Visit the America Saves website for more info and marketing materials.

THE END OF COLLEGE : Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere
Tuesday, March 3, 2015, New York, NY, New America
American higher education is in crisis. The price of college has grown astronomically, forcing students and parents to take out loans that now exceed $1.2 trillion in outstanding debt. Many of those loans are falling into default as graduates struggle to find good work. The latest research suggests that our vaunted universities are producing graduates who learn little while they're in school.

News

From Bloomberg: After years of avoiding confrontation, the U.S. labor movement is reasserting itself. From the ports of Los Angeles to the car plants of Detroit, unions are demanding payback for sacrifices they say helped revive the economy. Oil workers have walked off the job for higher wages and better working conditions. Dock workers have snarled West Coast ports. Personnel staffing oil terminals at the Port of Long Beach, California, are threatening to strike. In Detroit, union leaders girding for contract talks this year will push for the first raise veteran autoworkers have received in a decade. Read more here.

From The Hill: As part of its push for a federal minimum wage increase, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is pointing to stagnant wages in 2014, part of a 35-year trend, it says. Compared to 2007, hourly wages for Americans in 2014 were flat or had fallen, EPI said in a Thursday report. “The poor performance of American workers’ wages in recent decades — particularly their failure to grow at anywhere near the pace of overall productivity — is the country’s central economic challenge,” the report said. Read more here.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Even as Americans acknowledge gains in racial equality, new research shows that by at least one measure — financial — the U.S. still has a long way to go. A recent Pew research study indicates that the financial gap between blacks and whites is the highest it’s been since 1989. In 2010, the median wealth of white households was eight times higher than blacks; now that figure has leapt to 17 times, the highest rate in two decades, according to Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Read more here.

From Time: The American economy is by many measures well on the road to full recovery. And yet the middle class, which historically was the driver of economic growth, is falling behind. Based on an analysis of household incomes among America’s middle class, these are the states where the middle class is suffering the most. Read more here.

From the New York Times: When a woman calls Fidelity about her investments there, her questions are likely to be handled a bit differently from those asked by a man. Customer service representatives are more likely to chitchat to establish rapport. And they may frame the conversation around her longer-term goals or the important people in her life — perhaps a child with a college savings account, or an elderly parent. The representative may ask more open-ended questions. Read more here.

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Concept Testing with Microbusiness Owners: Why and How?

By Lauren Williams on 02/19/2015 @ 05:30 PM

Tags: Entrepreneurship

This blog post is part of a series focused on the Microbusiness Solutions Learning Cluster; a year-long engagement during which CFED will work closely with WESST, CAMBA and Northern Initiatives to understand a unique design challenge, create an intervention or programmatic tweak to address it and then pilot that intervention to assess its impact.

The Why

If you’re new to concept testing, here’s a crash course on what it is and why it matters for nonprofit service providers. Here’s the short version:

Concept tests are a type of market research that help organizations identify whether or not a potential customer likes an idea and if there are opportunities to improve it.

This is why we decided to kick off our Microbusiness Solutions Learning Cluster application process by running concept tests on all eight submissions. One of our scoring criteria for applicants required understanding how appealing each product or service is to microbusiness owners and whether opportunities to improve it align with the organization’s priorities. Not to mention, we knew the results would help inform potential improvements down the road. So, we partnered with EA Consultants to design and implement concept tests.

This is a sample product card describing CAMBA’s Mobilize Your Business Training used for the concept tests conducted by EA Consultants in 2014.

The How

Between November and December 2014, EA’s Mobile Data Unit interviewed 40 low- and moderate-income microbusiness owners with household incomes under $50,000 per year to test eight product or service concepts aimed at facilitating or strengthening their financial stability. Interviews were conducted in New York City; Torrington, CT; Baltimore, MD; Northfield, MN; Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; and Northern Minnesota.

Interviewers presented three randomly assigned product cards to each respondent (in English or Spanish), asked open-ended questions about the products and offered respondents a cash incentive in exchange for their time. The product cards were designed to clearly and succinctly convey key information about the functional components of each product or service. Each respondent was then asked a series of questions designed to gauge their initial reactions, demand for the product and thoughts on some of the specific aspects of each product. All respondents were asked: Would you add or remove anything to/from this product? If so, what and why? Would you use this product? Why or why not?

Next week, we’ll share the results as we publish a research brief.

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Technical Assistance Fund: Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders Share Tips and Resources on Financial Coaching

By Fran Rosebush on 02/19/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Assets & Opportunity Initiative

Assets & Opportunity Network members have increasingly expressed interest over the past year in learning more about effective financial coaching models and practices. The popularity of this longer-term, client-centered financial capability strategy has been growing among others in the field as well, which has led to more information and resources becoming available on the topic. As a core function of the Assets & Opportunity Network, we have been seeking opportunities to connect Network members to these resources and their peers facing similar questions. Last year, we held an informal, facilitated call (called a Virtual Coffee) with Network Leaders to discuss their common questions with each other, as well as share the resources they have found most useful. With support from the JPMorgan Chase Technical Assistance Fund, 16 Network Leaders came together for this call. Below are the tips and resources they shared.

Common question: How do others recruit financial coaches? What skill sets are most helpful?

Tips from Network peers:
Skills to look for when recruiting coaches

  • Openness to learning coaching techniques and asking questions
  • Ability to assess where a client is along the spectrum from crisis mode to thriving
  • Ability to have empathy, turn off counseling mindset and use coaching method
  • Strong listening skills

Where and how to recruit coaches

  • Train frontline case managers and their supervisors at social service organizations to implement coaching approaches when appropriate
  • Recruit from current staff, volunteers and former clients
  • Be clear with roles in partnership when recruiting volunteers from financial institutions—it is important to not promote specific products and to always use a coaching method

Common question: What are the best ways to keep financial coaching clients engaged and committed?

Tips from Network peers:

  • Integrate the financial coaching program to another financial capability program (e.g., IDAs, VITA services, credit counseling, lending circles, savings programs).
  • Position the coach as a part of a support network available to the client.
  • Emphasize the client’s responsibility in the partnership.
  • Schedule follow-up appointments immediately (could also include a mid-point call to check-in).
  • Use empathy skills during the coaching appointment.
  • Incorporate accountability and support from peers in to group coaching models.
  • Utilize online tools (e.g., MyBudgetCoach and The Change Machine) which can send reminders and be easily accessible.

Common question: How can I best collect data from financial coaching clients for outcome measures?

Tips from Network peers:

  • Be conscientious about the burden or amount of the “ask” on clients to complete surveys and balance that with your needs to determine outcomes.
  • Collect data on specific goals for coaching and the timeframe chosen to achieve those goals at the onset, which can help with measuring achievement as coaching progresses.
  • Track confidence levels and how client’s confidence with different financial activities changes over time can be a helpful measure for outcomes.
  • Look at formative evaluation (i.e., how are the sessions going?). Ask this at end of each session.
  • Look at summative evaluation (i.e., after they end coaching, follow-up on how things are going now, touch base a month or two afterward, and look at outcome measures such as credit scores at this later time).
  • Capture detailed notes during each session, then track overtime as client progresses.

Financial coaching information and resources shared on the call and afterward

This Virtual Coffee on financial coachng is one example of an opportunity within the Assets & Opportunity Network Learning Community, which aims to speed up diffusion of innovative financial security and asset-building approaches. The Assets & Opportunity Network includes many of the nation’s leading experts who are grounded in real world practice and policy on financial capability and asset-building issues, as well as others who have the interest, drive and passion to deepen and expand their impact, but who may be newer to the work. We are continuously exploring opportunities to connect and share among Network members. If you have an idea for a future learning opportunity for the Assets & Opportunity Network, share them with assetsandopportunity@cfed.org.

Also in This Series

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Advocates in Idaho Use New Assets & Opportunity Scorecard Data to Build the Case for Policy Reform

By Jennifer Medina on 02/18/2015 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: Assets & Opportunity Initiative

A variety of indicators—falling unemployment, an improving stock market and a stabilizing housing market—suggest that the economy is improving. Yet many Americans see little evidence of economic recovery in their own lives. The 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, released two weeks ago by CFED, sheds some light on this conundrum. The new data illustrate that many Americans are struggling in their abilities to control their finances, absorb a financial shock or be on track to meet their financial goals. These findings, detailed in CFED’s new report, Excluded from the Financial Mainstream, suggest that a comprehensive public policy response is needed in order to improve the financial well-being of American households.

Released annually, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is a powerful data tool CFED develops to empower advocates to advance asset-building policies in their states. With over 135 outcome and policy measures across five issue areas (Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education), the Scorecard can be leveraged by advocates to educate policymakers and other community leaders about the importance of strategies that help individuals and families get ahead.

We’re proud to work with state and local partners from the Assets & Opportunity Network who use the Scorecard as a powerful opportunity to engage policymakers and media around key asset-building issues facing their communities. This year, the Idaho Asset-Building Network, an Assets & Opportunity Network Leader, was the perfect example. With the 2015 legislative session in full swing, the Idaho Asset-Building Network hosted a press conference at the Idaho State Capitol and invited all state legislators and media outlets throughout the state to attend. The event resulted in a feature on the Boise evening news, as well as the expectation that several other media outlets will run a story about the Scorecard data and the Idaho Asset-Building Network.

The press conference—which was held in one of the committee hearing rooms at the State Capitol—shed light on the challenges facing Idahoans, and raised awareness about the Idaho Asset-Building Network’s mission to promote and strengthen asset-building programs and policies in the state. Christine Tiddens, Community Outreach Director at Catholic Charities of Idaho, and Jessica Sotelo, Executive Director at Partners for Prosperity, provided an overview of the new data in the Scorecard, focusing on how the state’s high liquid asset poverty rate, low annual pay and high percentage of low-wage jobs underscore the need for policies that help residents build financial security. They also talked about the Network’s goals of facilitating policy advocacy, building capacity for members and raising awareness about asset-building issues. Four members of the Network’s steering committee in addition to Christine and Jessica were present at the press conference: Todd Christianson with Debt Reduction Services, Val Brooks with Simplot Credit Union, Joyce Bailey with United Way of the Treasure Valley and Lauren Necochea with the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

Reflecting on the day, Christine commented, “The event was a success! The Scorecard received a lot of attention and people had a lot of questions. The Idaho Asset-Building Network members were able to share their asset-building programs and services with legislators and the media.”

CFED is deeply grateful to Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders like Christine and Jessica for bringing the asset-building message to state lawmakers. We also extend our gratitude to the funders who make the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard possible, including the Ford Foundation, the Northwest Area Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.

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Bob Friedman On How the Asset Building Movement Got Its Mojo

By Bob Friedman on 02/17/2015 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: News

Editor's Note: CFED Founder Bob Friedman explains the history behind the asset building movement and how it mobilized financial support in this recent Inside Philanthropy article.

Back in 1978, with a promise of two grants for $25,000, one of which fell through, Bob Friedman set out to do something about assets and financial inclusion for the poor. He started the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) which has gone on to become a leader in the asset building field. Now, 37 years later, the field has become a well-funded movement, and is poised for a new stage of growth.

But Friedman is not your typical policy entrepreneur. He's also hung around the funding side of things, and there, too, has helped advance the asset building cause.

"I was born lucky, and have majored in it ever since," he says. Friedman comes from the Levi Strauss family. His grandfather, Dan Koshland, Sr., worked for the family business all his life, rising to become CEO of the iconic jeans maker.

"I revered my grandfather," said Friedman."He could have established his own foundation, but he didn't. Instead, he established the San Francisco Foundation. He fundamentally believed in community. He was also one of those rare people who loved paying taxes. He said he figured if he was paying a lot of taxes, he must be doing pretty well."

Philanthropy related to the Levi Strauss company was part of the fabric of the family Friedman grew up in, and earlier in his career, he served as a board member both for the corporation and its foundation. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Levi Strauss Foundation has long been a funder of asset building work. In a recent year, for example, it gave out 22 grants in this area to fund initiatives both in the U.S. and abroad.

That grantmaking captures the diversity of the asset building movement, and the different ways that foundation dollars are being deployed to help poor people build wealth. For example, the foundation supported an effort by the Earned Assets Resource Network "to connect low-wage workers to the financial mainstream through direct deposit and electronic payroll" and also backed an effort for "financial literacy training, matched savings and micro-enterprise development program for workers in the apparel industry in Medellin, Colombia."

As well, Levis Strauss money has gone to build up the asset building movement as a whole, with grants for networking and capacity building to boost coordinated work at the local, state, and national level. Bolstering research on assets and wealth has been another priority of the foundation, which also funds in the areas of HIV, disaster relief, and worker rights. In 2013, the foundation gave away $6.4 million and reported assets of $66 million.

Friedman does not now sit on the board of the Levi Strauss Foundation, which has a professional staff. And he's shy about taking credit for Levi's strong asset building focus:

I wouldn't claim to have shaped it. I share a lot of the corporate and foundation values. I was proud of the company for integrating plants in the south way before it was common to do so, and for maintaining employees during the Great Depression even if it meant they were polishing the floors. I think that the foundation has been courageous in addressing issues of economic justice and opportunity and diversity.

That said, it was Friedman who brought the idea of focusing on asset building to the Levi Strauss Foundation, from his work at CFED. He recalled talking with Judy Belk, who was president of the Levi Strauss Foundation at the time (she is now CEO of the California Wellness Foundation) about what it was like for low-income people to buy a house, and how having parents who could loan you the money for a down payment was not usually an option. "I told her about IDA's (Individual Development Accounts) and asset building, and she immediately got it on a fundamental level."

Mainly, though, Friedman has been a grantseeker, and we asked him about starting CFED and where he got his funding. He acknowledged that many of the early years were filled with trial and error. "I must say, those first five years, I was wandering in the desert, learning how to do fundraising, trying to establish that we knew something, which basically we did by respecting innovation at the community level."

During the first 10 years, he recalled receiving one major grant from the Department of Labor, which had to be signed off by both a Democratic and Republican secretary of labor. As a testament to how asset building has attracted an unusual range of supporters, Stuart Butler at Heritage Foundation was instrumental in securing the second approval. Still, funds were scarce in those early days.

Friedman remembered the first major foundation grant, for $500,000, coming from the Ford Foundation's rural program in 1990. Later, in the mid-1990s, Ford would go all in for asset building in a way that transformed the field. Its new president at the time, Susan Berresford, made this a top foundation priority and, to lead this work, hired Melvin Oliver, a sociologist and co-author (with Tom Shapiro) of Black Wealth/White Wealth, one of the bibles of the asset building movement. Ford went on to spend millions to scale up the asset building field, most notably with a $50 million give to Self Help, the North Carolina credit union, which Friedman says helped prove that "low income people can be homeowners with 3 percent down payments and fixed thirty-year rate mortgages, and that they're a good bet."

Friedman expresses gratitude about Ford's leadership in this area, including that of Frank DeGiovanni, who still directs the foundation's asset building work. "They're huge," Friedman said emphatically, adding that Ford's embrace of assets represented a crucial move away from a "poverty" frame.

But make no mistake: Bob Friedman was developing this field long before America's then-biggest foundation came along and helped supersize it.

Another key pioneer, of course, was Michael Sherraden, the author of the seminal 1991 book, Assets and the Poor. No book has been more important to the asset building movement, and Friedman recalls being introduced to Sherraden when the book was still in draft form. Learning about Sherraden's ideas, and particularly his proposal for Individual Development Accounts, was pivotal.

Friedman described how he found in Sherraden's concept of the IDA the basic building block of a truly "democratic and inclusive human investment system." Plenty of funders turned out to be equally excited, and Friedman says the IDA concept was crucial in helping asset building get traction with top foundations.

The Joyce Foundation (Craig Kennedy, Debby Leff, Unmi Song with little-known board member Barack Obama) and Charles Stewart Mott (Jack Litzenberg, a giant, Benita Melton, Bill White and so many others) were there to back the first three IDA programs, where we didn't have any model; we had Sherraden's idea, but it seemed clear to me that unless we got stuff on the ground, the idea wouldn't go far and so the Joyce Foundation invested in these three nascent initiatives.

Then CFED joined with Sherraden and the Center for Social Development to launch the American Dream Demonstration and we got 12 major foundations to invest significantly led by Ford, Mott, MacArthur, Citigroup (first financial institution foundation to support us, thanks to Janet Thompson, Pam Flaherty, Brandee McHale, and Bob Annibale), FB Heron (which became the first to devote its whole mission to asset-building under the leadership of Sharon King), MacArthur, Kaufmann, Fannie Mae, Joyce, Levi Strauss, Rockefeller, Moriah, and Met Life.

That demonstration and that support really enabled us to develop the IDA field, and maybe it's because we didn't know what we didn't know but it seemed like every step was progress, and we did at the end of the day prove that low income people, with labor-intensive community programs, would save and build assets.

The rest is history, as they say. Asset building remains a major focus of many funders and the movement continues to gain steam.

As for Bob Friedman, he long ago decided to hand off the management of CFED to others but remains its board chair and general counsel—titles that don't capture what he really is: the godfather of one of the most significant policy movements of recent decades.

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Asset Building News Round Up: February 13, 2015

By Paul Day on 02/13/2015 @ 12:30 PM

Tags: News

News

From Bloomberg Business: The House Ways and Means Committee voted to expand college savings tax incentives that President Barack Obama proposed limiting earlier this year. The bill would let people use so-called 529 accounts to buy computers as well as tuition, books and other expenses. It also would make it easier for people to put refunds from colleges back into tax-advantaged accounts without penalty. Read more here.

From Nonprofit Quarterly: Classic economics argues that raising the minimum wage always leads to greater unemployment, because at a higher wage price, there will be less demand for labor and therefore excess supply. I’d pay the kid next door $7 an hour to rake leaves so I can watch football, but if I have to pay him $10, I’ll just rent a leaf blower and do it myself. Walmart might not think greeting customers is worth more than $8 per hour, so if minimum wage goes to $9, the greeters lose their jobs. Read more here.

From Forbes: There are many theories about the difficulties Social Security might face in the future and what to do about it. A new study from the Center for American Progress adds an ironic twist: income inequality is helping to undermine Social Security and threaten both the prospects of older people with low incomes and inadequate wealth and the financial security of many children and families. Read more here.

From Credit Union Insight: Even during the best of economic times, mid-sized credit unions struggle to expand. For such credit unions, spurts of high growth occur rarely and unpredictably, and they are difficult to sustain. During the worst of times when loan demand dips, smaller to mid-sized credit unions face an even steeper climb, while their larger counterparts have the scale to significantly leverage resources with strong bargaining power that enables the pursuit of growth strategies despite economic downturns. Read more here.

From New America: Tax time is often referred to as the “golden moment” for asset building and financial management due to the substantial infusion of resources many households receive in the form of tax refunds. For the tax preparation process to fulfill its potential as a delivery system for asset building resources, there need to be adequate protections in place to ensure its integrity. Read more here.

Assets & Opportunity Network Updates

From CASH Buffalo: Created in 2004, Creating Assets, Savings & Hope (CASH) Buffalo works to increase the financial stability of low-to-moderate income families in Buffalo and Erie County. Our coalition consists of over sixty member organizations, including foundations, banks, credit unions, nonprofits, faith-based and community groups, educational institutions, employers, and concerned citizens.  Read more here.

From CFED: On Tuesday February 3, 2015, the Senate Finance Committee in Colorado voted against SB15-095, proposal that would have added protections for manufactured homeowners through a modernized dispute and oversight regime without compromising the rights of manufactured home community owners. Read more here.

CFED Story Bank Updates

From Prepare + Prosper: As a teacher's assistant and single mom, Stephanie has a lot on her plate, but tax time helps her to make it financially manageable. Free and expert help with taxes and finances--and the tax refunds she receives--are critical to her family’s continued success. Read more here.

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Concept Testing for Product and Service Design: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

By Lauren Williams on 02/13/2015 @ 10:15 AM

Tags: Entrepreneurship

This blog post is part of a series focused on the Microbusiness Solutions Learning Cluster, a year-long engagement during which CFED will work closely with WESST, CAMBA and Northern Initiatives to understand a unique design challenge, create an intervention or programmatic tweak to address it, and then pilot that intervention to assess its impact. 

Have you ever wondered how companies decide how to package, name and introduce new products? How might McDonald’s decide the best way to introduce trendier, healthier menus or roll out a platform to customize their burgers and sandwiches Chipotle-style, for instance? How did Procter & Gamble decide to package, name and sell the Swiffer to life-long mop users? How do banks like Capital One decide to transform their digital banking experience? Chances are that each of these companies did some sort of early concept testing before making significant investments in further product testing or bringing these new offerings to market.

What is concept testing?

Concept testing is a category of market research activities that seeks to solicit public responses and feedback to ideas about a product or service before introducing it to market. Concept tests help organizations identify whether or not a potential customer likes an idea and if there are opportunities to improve it. The results of a concept test are typically used to reshape and refine ideas for the product or service to help ensure that the final version reflects the targeted markets’ preferences and appeals to them.

How does it work?

Concept testing usually involves showing a potential user a description, flier, brochure, storyboard, presentation or short video of the product or and gathering their reactions to it through a survey or in-person interview. These presentations of the idea will offer a basic description of the product, usually with a headline and some supportive explanation of how it works, and may include an illustration of the product or the steps a user would take to experience a service. Surveys or interviews will usually ask questions like:

  • How interested are you in buying this product?
  • What do you like about this product?
  • What would you change about this product?
  • How much would you be willing to pay for this product?

The responses to these questions tend to help companies improve their offerings by making sure they target the population segments to which they appeal most and include the most desirable features. It might also help them to generate new ideas for the product or service or determine how to price, advertise or promote the offering.

Why should you care about concept testing?

Usually, we hear about concept testing in the context of for-profit companies and their product design or market research processes. Companies may start by asking themselves how they can convert more potential customers into paying customers or how they can bring a new product to market in the most profitable way. Though their ultimate motivation may be profit-driven, the underlying value of concept testing is that it can drive profit by helping to improve products, clarify priorities and increase the extent to which products match up with market needs.

Since you’re reading this on CFED’s Inclusive Economy blog, chances are you’re a nonprofit practitioner, government agency staff, funder or some other stakeholder who cares about low- and moderate-income consumers. Your motivations may not be profit-driven, but you do (hopefully) care deeply about the quality of your product and service offerings, how useful and appealing they are to your customers, and how effectively they help your customer’s achieve their goals. There’s an unspoken tension between the nonprofit and government sectors and the types of research, development and design practices (from concept testing to rapid prototyping) often employed by for-profit companies. But, this shouldn’t be the case.

Investing in innovation or R&D can seem expensive and time consuming up front, and the value of the return on that investment is difficult to sell to government and philanthropic funders who often expect positive outcomes in return for their dollars. But, the reality is that these investments can also exponentially improve the quality, utility and reach of products and services in any market. That said, those in the business of serving low- and moderate-income communities should care about concept testing—and other methods for investing in well-designed products and services—because our customers deserve the best we can offer, and by making relatively small investments up front, we can make sure they get it.

Stay tuned! Next week, we’ll tell you what we learned when we worked with EA Consultants to conduct concept tests on the financial products, services and trainings offered by Learning Cluster applicants.

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A Job is Not Enough: How Financial Capability Can Help People Gain and Maintain Employment

By Alicia Atkinson on 02/12/2015 @ 04:30 PM

Tags: Federal Policy, Integrated Service Delivery

Employment alone is not enough to guarantee financial well-being. Consistent and adequate income from a full-time job is likely to ease an individual’s immediate financial stress, but a job alone does not lead to long-term financial well-being. For this, households need to improve all areas of their balance sheet by increasing income and credit scores, building savings and assets, and decreasing expenses and debt.

Last year, we introduced the first of five-part federal policy publication series, Increasing Financial Well-Being through Integration, which will chronicle policy recommendations that have the potential to increase the impact of social service programs by boosting families’ overall economic outcomes and improving financial well-being.

Today, as part of this five-part series, we are releasing Increasing Financial Well-Being through Integration: Gaining and Retaining Employment, which lays out the arguments for why social service programs that are working on employment and career pathways should focus on the multiple dimensions of individuals’ financial lives. The brief provides policy recommendations for how the federal government can encourage the integration of financial capability services into the workforce development system and the workplace.

Workforce development programs and financial capability services share similar goals; both focus on ensuring individuals have the tools to participate in, contribute to and benefit from the mainstream economy. These services are strongly interrelated and become less effective when siloed. Many youth and adults come to workforce development programs not only struggling to find a job but also with other financial challenges. Financial capability services have a track record of increasing employment outcomes while addressing the other dimensions of an individual’s financial life. Evaluations have shown that by integrating financial capability services into employment services, job placement rates, number of hours worked, wages and job retention all tend to increase.

As families struggle with multiple financial challenges, policymakers and practitioners need to provide new, impactful solutions that can contribute to cultural shifts that make workforce development programs and the workplace not just about checking the employment box but about getting households financially stable.

Future briefs in this series will be released in the coming months and will cover the value of integrating financial capability services in order to boost other programmatic outcomes, including:

  • Gaining housing stability.
  • Reaching and succeeding in higher education.
  • Improving health.

Stay tuned for these and other resources on integrating financial capability!

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