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Five Lessons for Integrating Financial Capability Services

By Kori Hattemer on 09/03/2015 @ 05:00 PM

Tags: Integrating Financial Capability, News

In January 2014, 10 community-based organizations embarked on an eighteen-month journey to develop new ways for their low-income clients to progress toward financial security, thanks to generous support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Our new publication, Meeting People Where They Are: Five Lessons for Integrating Financial Capability Services, highlights the lessons and successes from that Learning Cluster so that other organizations can benefit from their experiences.

While all Learning Cluster participants followed the same general planning process, they varied in the amount of time they spent planning, the financial capability services they selected and how much they tried to do in-house versus through partnerships and referrals. Despite their differences, all ten Learning Cluster members engaged three stakeholder groups—clients, partners and staff—to design and implement their projects. Our new publication summarizes five key lessons that the organizations learned about integrating financial capability services into existing programs, specifically tailoring services for clients, leveraging partnerships and preparing staff:

  • Invest the time to understand which financial capability services are right for which clients. To successfully integrate financial capability services, Learning Cluster members first sought to understand how clients were managing their finances and then used this information to identify which financial capability services would be most relevant and effective.
  • Find out what motivates clients and how to reduce barriers to their participation. After selecting the right financial capability service(s) to provide to clients based on their financial lives, Learning Cluster members worked to make sure clients wanted and were able to access the services by meeting their basic needs first by connecting financial capability services to clients’ primary goals, and then removing barriers to participation.
  • Think creatively about partnerships and make sure partners have what they need to serve clients well. Throughout the project period, Learning Cluster members found that attaining sustainable funding is difficult, but inroads towards this goal can be made by engaging funders as thought partners; financial institutions continue to make excellent partners, but organizations may need to invest time exploring how best to utilize them; and partnerships need clear processes and continual refinement to be successful.
  • Secure buy-in from staff at all levels of the organization. Participating organizations learned that their integration projects were more likely to be successful if senior leaders, frontline staff and administrative personnel throughout the organization understood what they were trying to accomplish by integrating financial capability services, agreed that this work is important for their clients and organization, and felt comfortable talking to their clients about financial topics.
  • Build staff capacity to deliver or refer to financial capability services. Regardless of the integration approach they selected—refer, partner or DIY—Learning Cluster members worked to make sure staff who delivered services, both at their organization and at partner organizations, had the capacity, confidence, knowledge, expertise and cultural competency to do what they were asked to do.

We recommend that organizations interested in starting or expanding their own financial capability integration projects also check out our other resources. Learning Cluster members used early drafts of the tools in Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services, an interactive resource that CFED developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. They also used the Tracking Financial Capability series to evaluate their integration projects, notably tools that helped them Identify and Prioritize Expected Outcomes, Build a Logic Model and Select and Collect Indicator Data.

These and other resources are available at CFED’s Integrating Financial Capability website.

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