Learning Partnership Expands Financial Capability Services to Almost 36,000 People
By Megan Bolado on 11/03/2016 @ 11:00 AM
In September 2016, CFED concluded the Community Financial Empowerment Learning Partnership—an 18-month project with seven cohorts of organizations focused on expanding, improving and aligning financial capability services to better serve their communities. The Learning Partnership, which was generously supported by JPMorgan Chase, engaged a range of diverse programs, communities and populations and ultimately reached nearly 36,000 low-income people.
Participants in the Learning Partnership included:
- Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (Sonoma County, CA)
- Clarifi, with partners City of Philadelphia and Energy Coordinating Agency
- Financial Guidance Center (Las Vegas, NV)
- Massachusetts Community Action Partnership
- United Way of Miami-Dade, with partners Catalyst Miami, Branches and the City of Miami
- Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Detroit, MI)
- WiNGS, with partners New Friends, New Life and Metrocrest Services (Dallas, TX)
CFED provided technical assistance to these groups to build the capacity of Learning Partnership members to deliver financial capability services. As a result of working together, Learning Partnership members provided financial capability services to nearly 36,000 clients, over 4,500 of whom received financial coaching and almost 6,500 of whom accessed multiple financial capability services over the course of the project.
Each cohort improved their service delivery systems by training staff, creating referral systems with feedback loops and tracking financial capability outputs and outcomes. Learning Partnership members also facilitated local convenings with key stakeholders to raise awareness and build interest in integrating financial capability services and expanding economic opportunity in their communities.
When CFED took on this project, we knew there would not be a one-size-fits-all approach to integration that would work. That’s why we spent time working with each Learning Partnership member to deepen our understanding of their organizations and the communities they were aiming to serve. We worked with participants to assess the many approaches to integrating financial capability services and create a customized plan to best meet their needs, such as integrating within large multi-service organizations, co-locating financial capability services with partners or creating collaborative referral networks.
One lesson that will help us—and, we hope, others in the field—to better integrate financial capability services is the critical value of building support from stakeholders prior to and throughout the integration process. Several Learning Partnership members articulated that by intentionally developing a common language about integration, goals and processes with all stakeholders from the outset, they garnered strong support for the integration project and ultimately improved their outcomes. Additionally, the Learning Partnership revealed the growing need to share best practices around key challenges, such as the development of improved data systems, data collection for integrating across partnerships, or the development of more financial resources for supporting integration efforts.
The Learning Partnership was an invaluable experience that helped create responsive financial capability resources for nearly 36,000 people. CFED extends its gratitude to each of the Learning Partnership participants, as well as JPMorgan Chase, for making it possible for us to support these organizations and ultimately better serve low-income individuals and families.
Integrating Financial Capability: A Case Study for Why Client-Centered Program Design is Essential
By Megan Kiesel, Guest Contributor on 08/31/2016 @ 10:00 AM
In the drive to integrate financial information and education into existing nonprofit services, the relationship between social service providers and clients is often viewed as a strength. We believe that existing relationships, especially trusting ones, are ripe environments for generating new ideas and information sharing, and that clients are more likely to receive new information and services in this context. We’ve seen this to be true when integrating financial capability services into workforce development or Head Start programs. However, it is important to remember that social service workers are often gatekeepers to tangible financial benefits. As much trust and goodwill that may exist between clients and these employees, it is not without nuance.
When Clarifi and the City of Philadelphia joined the Community Financial Empowerment Learning Project (CFELP) and began a relationship with a local organization called the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), the hope was that we could expand the services received by ECA’s clients through their relationships with energy counselors.
Energy counselors are situated in community-based organizations and serve as conduits to myriad essential energy programs, subsidies, loans, and education. For community members, they are a lifeline to affordable and stable utility access. Clarifi and the City of Philadelphia decided to partner with two neighborhood energy centers to help them bring additional financial capability services to their clients. Energy counselors were already completing budgets with clients. However, before the CFELP project, training on budgeting was limited and counselors spent varying amounts of time on it based on their own financial confidence.
This presented a key opportunity to expand the relationship between client and the energy counselor. We anticipated great synergy in training energy counselors to provide more robust budget counseling, help people understand debt and credit, and recognize and make appropriate referrals for clients who could benefit from sessions with a certified financial counselor. We developed a screening tool based on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Financial Well-Being Scale for the energy counselors to use to gain insight into clients’ finances and help initiate deeper conversations during the intake process.
At first, our plan seemed to be moving along without a hitch. The energy counselors were enthusiastic and fully engaged when we hosted them for training (using CFPB’s Your Money, Your Goals curriculum). Not only were they excited to use their new skills on the job, but they also couldn’t wait to have a financial counseling appointment themselves.
Results from the screeners seemed to indicate we hit a goldmine of clients who could benefit from financial counseling: over 95% of clients indicated they were interested in finding ways to improve their credit; 72% were receiving calls from creditors and 88% expressed a desire to learn more about pursuing homeownership.
However, clients who scheduled appointments with Clarifi through this process—appointments that would directly meet the needs outlined above—often did not attend their appointments. Further, energy counselors found that clients were not engaging readily in the more robust budget counseling they were providing. While conversations about “spending leaks” and other behavioral challenges were successful, they felt that clients were unwilling to go into detail about income, expenses and debt in a way that would have made conversations more impactful.
Our partners thus took to examining and addressing the explanations for these project challenges. We conducted a focus group with the energy counselors that revealed one notable barrier: clients did not want to talk about their finances with energy counselors for fear it might jeopardize their energy benefits. We had not considered that the energy counselors are the bridge between clients and essential state subsidies. It’s easy to imagine that clients may be wary of providing too much unnecessary information in this situation. Clients at energy centers are focused on keeping utilities on during cold winters, not on analyzing credit card debt, after all. They might have feared that if they said the wrong thing, it would jeopardize their energy subsidy, or they may be concerned that if the conversation about budgeting was too lengthy, avoiding it may reduce time needed to complete their LIHEAP application. At the end of the day, the relationship between energy counselor and client is about accessing a service that is essential to the clients’ survival. Even follow-up appointments, although conducted by a separate agency, may be seen as having the potential to threaten their application or subsidies.
Herein lies the nuance. On its surface, relationships between clients and energy counselors are warm and already include discussions of finances. Isn’t it logical to simply expand that conversation? But in reality, these relationships are an important part of some clients’ very tenuous lives. Introducing a stressful ancillary topic to these conversations only diverts attention from the goal at hand.
As we march ever more confidently in the direction of integration, it’s important to remember that social service agencies and staff provide essential services to clients that they cannot live without, and many of these services are dependent upon clients demonstrating economic need. Financial empowerment is critical and will only take root if offered in places and ways that are convenient to our target audiences. But we must consider those “convenient” times and places carefully to be sure our mission does not have the opposite impact on our clients. One way to do this may be to co-locate services and have financial counselors on site who can discuss clients’ financial needs separately from their energy appointments but in a convenient location. During a Saturday event, we tried this method and were able to complete a number of financial counseling appointments on site, illustrating that this may be a promising strategy.
Megan Kiesel is the Senior Manager for Program Development at Clarifi. She has over a decade of experience developing and implementing programs to improve the financial stability of consumers.
ALC Session Spotlight: Building Your Capacity to Advocate, Communicate & Integrate
By Sean Luechtefeld on 08/26/2016 @ 10:00 AM
In just five weeks, 1,400 asset builders will descend on Washington for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. This week, we’re highlighting several of the 80+ sessions from which attendees will have to choose. If you want to get in on the action and participate in these sessions, it’s not too late! Register for the ALC by Friday, September 2 to guarantee your seat at the table and save $100!
If you’re interested in honing your advocacy skills and improving the services you deliver, here’s your personalized ALC agenda:
- Top Down & Bottom Up Integration Successes (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
Successful integration of financial capability services into direct service programs requires the thoughtful planning and implementation of organizations and programs on the ground. This session will explore what successful integration into Head Start and workforce development programs looks like on the ground, and how federal agency support and legislation can take integration to the next level.
- Upping Your Advocacy Game: Engaging Practitioners as Advocates (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
This session will explore how state-based and national organizations have engaged and mobilized practitioners, service delivery providers, coalition partners and other stakeholders to advocate for change. The session will help participants understand the importance of advocacy and share some concrete ways to build skills and comfort in participating in effective advocacy.
- From Grassroots to Government: Changemaking for Economic Opportunity (Thursday, September 29, 8:30 am)
How does change happen in this country? Sometimes from the top down—and sometimes from the ground up. This plenary will examine both sides of the equation. We’ll begin with an address from a senior Administration official (invited) who will speak about the powerful momentum that has been generated at the federal level around the notion of financial inclusion and security. Then, Assets & Opportunity Network Steering Committee Chair Dave Snyder will facilitate a dialogue with The Reverend Starsky Wilson, Co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.
- Broadening the Tent: Engaging Communities of Color in Our Coalitions (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
This session will examine how engaging communities of color in coalition building can lead to positive outcomes that benefit diverse stakeholders. Practitioners will share their effective coalition-building strategies and practices at the national, state and local levels, and participants will have a chance to think about their own coalition-building challenges, including getting feedback and input on how to resolve these challenges.
- Capitol Hill Visits (Thursday, September 29, 2:15 pm)
Capitol Hill Visits give ALC attendees the opportunity to educate federal lawmakers and their staffers about strategies that build financial health and well-being, including issues related to IDAs and VITA/EITC. To help get you ready, we’re also offering a Hill Visit prep session, “Everything You Need to Know to Tackle Capitol Hill,” Thursday at 10:15 am. Join us to make a difference in the communities you serve!
- Workshop: Financial Coaching 101 (Thursday, September 29, 2:15 pm)
In this interactive workshop, participants will have the opportunity to learn from experts and practitioners first-hand about the elemental foundations of financial coaching. Guest speakers and presenters will share best practices from the field and share the basic building blocks of what financial coaching is, what it looks like and how practitioners might integrate financial coaching in some way into their own service delivery. Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to showcase and demonstrate their coaching model, product or curriculum with participants.
- Effective Communications Strategies that Won't Break the Bank (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
Starting with the resources you DO have—plus targeted digital investments—this session will explore how a smart communications strategy can help you do more with less. In this session, you’ll hear from experts in policy, advocacy, media relations and digital communications who will show you how strategic use of communications tools can help you reach your goals and make the case for a more inclusive economy. You’ll walk away from the session with concrete tips for making the most of your strategic communications efforts.
- Fundraising for Advocacy and Coalition Building (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
Advocates and coalition leaders often report that fundraising for their work is a major challenge in the field. In this session, participants will hear from experts about the current funding landscape and how to craft a compelling message for funders. This session will be interactive and participants will practice pitching their fundraising message with their peers.
- Policy Options and Political Opportunity for Reforming Unfair Tax Programs (Friday, September 30, 11:45 am)
Every year, Congress chooses to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on tax programs to help Americans build wealth, but low-income households—and particularly households of color—receive little or no support. The result of these unfair, upside-down tax programs is growing financial insecurity, a widening racial wealth divide and skyrocketing wealth inequality. Speakers in this session will discuss the scope of these problems, their ideas for reforming and redeploying these tax programs, opportunities for advocacy engagement from the field, and the potential for real change with a new Congress and Administration in 2017.
These are just a small sampling of all this year’s ALC has to offer. Check out the full agenda here.
We hope to see you in Washington, DC, September 28-30! Learn more and register today at assetsconference.org.
The 4 Things We’ve Learned about Integrating Financial Capability
Learning is central to our work at CFED. We are constantly thinking about how we can learn about what’s working in the field to improve financial well-being and how we can share that knowledge with the field.
In this vein, over the past three and a half years, CFED supported the Asset Initiative Partnership (AIP), led by the Office of Community Services (OCS). By delivering technical assistance, facilitating peer learning and developing resources, we worked alongside government agencies and nonprofits across the country as they integrated financial capability into community health centers, Head Start programs, programs that serve Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and services for youth transitioning out of foster care. Integrating financial capability into these programs, by providing their clients with the financial knowledge, skills and access to resources they need, both enhances their financial wellness and improves outcomes for these programs. It is a win-win for everyone.
Diving into this integration work, CFED worked alongside organizations to learn about the types of support and information they needed. So here are our four big takeaways learned after years of working on these issues:
- A person’s finances cannot be disentangled from other aspects of their life. When we conducted the AIP field scan in 2013, we found that organizations around the country were already working to integrate financial capability services into other social service programs. Integrating financial capability services allowed organizations to meet their clients where they were, both physically as they received other services, as well as financially as they dealt with barriers to self-sufficiency and stability.
- These organizations have a great appetite for learning! They were hungry for planning tools, examples from other organizations and resources to use with clients as they worked to build the financial capability of their clients. While many organizations see the need to integrate financial capability services for their clients, they may not have experience working on financial issues and struggle to know where to start or what to do. We realized that a Guide was needed to help organizations understand the points in their interactions with clients at which financial capability services made the most sense, which financial capability services should be integrated, how they should be delivered and who should deliver them. As a result, we developed Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services.
- There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach—the financial needs of clients vary between and within federal programs. While many clients receiving social services meet similar criteria, their financial lives and priorities vary. So integrating financial capability services cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, financial education curricula tailored for youth may not be appropriate for youth transitioning out of foster care. Messages and services for this population need to account for the fact that they may have suffered from identity theft and need to prioritize achieving financial independence over other financial goals. Taking the time to understand the specific financial priorities of each program’s clients, provide a distinct set of services for clients in different programs and tailor services as needed for specific client segments was critical in financial capability service integration.
- Strong partners are key to successful integration of financial capability services. While many organizations have successfully delivered financial capability services in-house, we found that when that infrastructure already exists at a partner agency, the integration process moves more quickly and, sometimes, even more effectively. For example, when the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) sought to incorporate financial education workshops into their TANF program, they partnered with the Fair Credit Foundation (FCF). FCF brought experienced trainers on site to deliver the workshops while clients were receiving job training and support. The two organizations worked together to connect DWS clients with other services, such as one-on-one financial coaching and matched savings. DWS did not have to add or train staff and could quickly establish a strong partnership with FCF.
What did we accomplish? Here is AIP by the numbers:
- An environmental field scan
- Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services (AKA, “the Guide”)
- 4 convenings of leaders
- 5 training videos for the Guide
- 1,500+ Guide webinar registrants
- 7,000 online views of the Guide
- 20+ organizations who accessed technical assistance
- 22 practice briefs and tip sheets
- 38 conference sessions
- 20 webinars
- 8 workshops
By sharing what we’ve learned through publications, webinars, toolkits, meetings, conferences and more, we supported efforts to integrate financial capability services at the national, state and local levels.
These numbers and lessons learned show us how much interest there is in how to integrate financial capability services and meet the financial needs of clients. But our work is far from done. The number and types of organizations interested in this work continues to grow, so we will continue to provide technical assistance and develop new resources. Next month, we’ll clue you in to some of the key policy recommendations that have come out of this work.
Learning from One Another: Multi-Directional Learning to Support Financial Capability Integration
By Alicia Hadley on 08/08/2016 @ 05:00 PM
Last month, CFED hosted our Integration Lessons Learned Summit in downtown Minneapolis. The Summit brought together more than 50 participants representing 20 organizations from two of CFED’s key initiatives: the Family Financial Empowerment Initiative (FFEI), made possible thanks to the generous support of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and the Community Financial Empowerment Learning Partnership (CFELP), made possible thanks to the generous support of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Over the past year, both groups have been hard at work integrating financial capability services into their existing programs or coordinating service delivery across their communities. The Summit was a rare opportunity for program staff and service providers from across the country to meet in person to share learnings, highlight successes and challenges they encountered in integrating financial capability services, and celebrate accomplishments and plan for the future.
CFED attributes multi-directional learning design of the Summit to its success in sparking robust knowledge sharing and transfer between participants, and in the spirit of multi-directional learning, we’re thrilled to share what we’ve learned.
What is multi-directional learning and why does CFED facilitate it?
Multi-directional learning is a teaching and learning style that focuses on the many interactions that happen between individuals in an educational environment. Using this approach, learning takes place in three ways: learner-to-learner, teacher-to-learner and learner-to-teacher. This approach varies from the typical teacher- or lecture-centered environment where an instructor disseminates information to learners. CFED designs multi-directional learning events using the Foundations of Dialogue Education framework, which focuses on a learning-centered approach that allows learners and teachers to learn from each other as well as discuss content and apply. We implement multi-directional learning events because they help the organizations we work with understand and apply financial capability concepts and strategies in their work.
How was multi-directional learning used during the Summit?
CFED incorporated the learner-to-learner approach in the Summit design to foster an environment that encourages participant sharing. The Summit spanned two-days, and during the first day, CFELP participants were given the opportunity to share best practices, challenges and accomplishments of their projects. To kick off the conversation, CFED facilitated a gallery walk that displayed poster boards for each organization or partnership outlining their integration strategy, implementation methods and the results. The gallery walk spurred an invigorating discussion about integration successes and opportunities that could be replicated in each other’s work. Massachusetts Community Action Partnership’s (MASSCAP) statewide integration model was one notable success. Many were inspired by the collaboration that MASSCAP was able to foster between 15 of their CAP organizations to deliver over 20 financial capability services, including financial coaching, financial counseling and credit building. MASSCAP attributes their successful relationship building to collaboration and communicating on a regular basis, which in turn fosters a supportive environment. MASSCAP shared their strategies and tips that are helpful in getting organizations to work and communicate with each other on a regular basis. This is a great example of how learners can support the learning of one another.
In addition to the learner-to-learner approach, the Summit also utilized the learner-to-teacher approach in order to highlight best practices and better inform CFED’s financial capability integration process. Over the past year, CFED has continued to learn a lot about the financial capability integration process from the participating organizations. Sessions on the first day allowed participants to reflect on the process in its entirety and provide their feedback. During these sessions, the CFED team facilitated targeted discussions around the tools and activities that participants engaged in over the past 14 months. These tools and activities included the Financial Capability Integration Planning Guide, “Discovery” site visits, in-person convenings, virtual peer learning calls and many more! The discussions about the process were fruitful and participants provided a critical perspective on how they experienced the financial capability integration process. They shared that tools such as client journey maps were essential to the success of the project and that they continue to use it in other aspects of their work. However, some tools, like the planning Guide, were useful, but needed additional explanation when first introduced. We appreciated this feedback immensely, because it not only will help CFED refine how we offer technical assistance, but it will also help us support financial capability integration projects better in the future.
The third approach to multi-directional learning is the teacher-to-learner style. This is the traditional style of learning that forms most of our education and was incorporated into the second day of the Summit, which focused on planning for the future. CFED offered expertise in four key topic areas: managing change, succession planning, fundraising and evaluation. During these sessions, we presented best practices, tips, tools and resources for participants to apply to their own work when they returned to their organizations. One of the most successful sessions was about fundraising, facilitated by CFED’s Director of Program Resource Development, Caryn Sweeney. Caryn informed participants about the financial capability integration landscape, what the funding challenges are in this field and how organizations can make the case for this work. Many participants left feeling inspired and created their own action plans to develop videos, display data, share client stories and encourage their current funders to help potential new funders see the value in supporting financial capability integration.
In all, the Integration Lessons Learned Summit was a great success because of the participants’ commitment to learning. All of the participants were engaged and enthusiastic about financial capability integration, and about the opportunity to share with and learn from one another. Thanks to the multi-directional learning approach, everyone was able to walk away from the Summit with new ideas and ways to expand their financial capability integration work.
Platforms for Prosperity Fellows Wind Down Year-Long Fellowship with Learning Visit in DC
By Megan Bolado on 08/04/2016 @ 01:00 PM
Two weeks ago, the six inaugural Platforms for Prosperity Integration Fellows gathered in Washington, DC, for the final Learning Visit of their 10-month engagement with CFED. The Fellowship, generously supported by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, aims to uncover lessons and promising practices with regards to integrating financial capability services into existing organizations or programs focused on delivering workforce development services. When the Fellows—each senior leaders at their respective organizations—convened last month, they shared updates with one another about the progress of their integration efforts. They also provided thoughtful feedback about what works for integrating financial capability into workforce development programs, strategized about future directions for their work, and engaged senior leaders from the D.C. area on issues related to change management.
As we reported in December, we undertook this unique program to engage a small, focused peer group of individuals to lead integration efforts at their organizations. The Fellowship targeted senior leaders, specifically, to determine how best to engage those who are in a position to affect and lead change in their organizations and in their communities. Additionally, we hoped to affirm and enhance existing evidence that integrating financial capability services into a workforce development program is a viable pathway to scaling financial capability. The convening in Washington helped us reflect on these and other goals of the Fellowship over the past nine months, and it helped us unearth other important themes and outcomes that will shape our approach to financial capability integration in the future.
As the Fellowship evolved, and the Fellows dove into integration efforts with their staff and clients, we gleaned a great deal about what it means for senior leaders within an organization to become deeply engaged in financial capability integration. For starters, we found that the number of partners in a fellowship cohort and the similarities in their roles at their respective organizations is essential for sustaining for robust peer learning. Moreover, because the Fellows are in positions that allow them to think strategically from a “30,000-foot view,” they were ready to approach integration with longer-term sustainability and impact in mind. By managing an integration project alongside organizational change, these leaders were able to achieve more—and with more longevity—than if they had been thinking about project management and organizational change separately.
As similar as the participants and their organizations seemed at the onset of the Fellowship, we also found evidence that every integration project faces different challenges and can leverage different opportunities. Even though all six Fellows were integrating financial capability services into workforce development programs, and even though we know that this is a proven strategy for scaling financial capability, the unique contexts facing each organization reminded us that integration strategies and methods need to be tailored to the unique communities being served. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all method to meeting people where they are to help improve their financial well-being.
The Platforms for Prosperity Integration Fellowship will officially wrap up in September, but the incredible work these organizations and their leaders are doing will no doubt continue. Stay tuned!
Supporting Workers Beyond Wages
As we’ve explored before, many workers are living on the financial edge. Choosing between paying a mortgage and eating or having anxiety over student loan repayment are examples of the struggles that far too many workers experience every day. And it’s spilling over into how we do our work.
In his opening piece for The Pinkerton Papers, Steven L. Dawson, Visiting Fellow at the Pinkerton Foundation and founder and former head of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, makes the case for employers helping their employees move from instability to stability. Dawson cites a 2015 Pew Research study that found that 92% of Americans would rather have financial stability over income mobility. This is a clear signal that workers would prefer the comfort of knowing they have a steady paycheck and good benefits over the possibility of increased wages. A “better jobs strategy,” Dawson asserts, will improve jobs in ways that increase the stability workers are asking for.
At CFED, we’ve been diving into how to make bad jobs better through our Financial Security at Work Initiative. We know that building workers’ financial capability, so that they can stabilize and manage their finances, is an essential feature of a better jobs strategy. With their impressive reach and numerous resources, employers have the ability to make real change in their workers’ lives through financial wellness programs that support employees and help them become more financially secure.
But you might ask, what’s in it for employers? And why should driving their employees towards financial stability be a top priority? The numbers speak volumes:
- To start with, 44% of households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they have less than three months of savings to live at the poverty level if they suffer an income loss.
- This liquid asset poverty naturally leads to financial stress. A 2016 PWC study states that over half of all employees are stressed about their finances. Financial stress is even more prevalent with young folks — 64% of millennials report that they’re stressed about finances.
- When taking into account other stressors, 45% of employees say that financial matters create the most stress in their lives. This is almost as many as those workers whose top stress is their job, health or relationships combined!
- So why should employers care? Low assets and financial stress lead to lost time on the job: 46% of workers spend three hours or more at work thinking about or dealing with issues related to personal finances. That’s 150 hours employers lose in productivity per employee every year.
- We know that employers have long taken steps to help their workers build retirement security. In a SHRM survey, 81% of organizations reported providing retirement planning and consultation. But only 25% of organizations report offering basic budgeting training to their employees.
- And that is a clear mismatch with what employees need. Even though retirement is the end goal for most employees, only 37% report that it’s their biggest worry. 55% of workers say that their biggest worry is not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses. Financial wellness programs are only just starting to catch up and go beyond the 401(k) in the financial security programs they can offer.
How can we better match up the needs and wants of workers to what their employers are offering them? Employers need to listen to their employees. By offering a variety of financial capability services, not just around retirement, employers can help their employees lower their financial stress, both on and off the job.
Dawson highlights a number of investments that employers can make in their staff, including giving them access to financial education and planning services, funding an emergency loan fund, connecting employees to public benefits and tax credits like EITC and helping workers with tuition benefits. These offerings impact a variety of problems that affect workers and help improve their financial well-being.
With access to a more comprehensive set of services, we hope that these workers will be less stressed about their finances in the workplace, more productive employees, and generally, more financially secure. Helping workers reach the point of financial well-being is a win-win for the employees and their employers.
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What Do Young, Lower-Income Workers Think about Financial Security at Work?
By Pamela Chan and Samuel Weinstock on 06/21/2016 @ 06:00 PM
It’s been almost a year since we last blogged about our Financial Security at Work Initiative, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes working on the next phase of the project. In our last update, we identified key questions that should shape future conversations about building financial security at work. Following this initial exploration, we’re continuing the conversation with an advisory group of financial wellness providers and also fielding new research that hones in on two of the questions identified: (1) How do financial needs change across the lifecycle, and (2) do workers want financial wellness services to be provided by their employers? Since these are hefty questions that deserve lots of deep exploration, we’re narrowing into a key demographic of particular interest — young, low- and moderate-income workers.
We are interested in learning from this key demographic for a few reasons. First, we know that young adulthood is a formative period in one’s financial life. At this age, people are often entering the workforce and becoming financially independent for the first time. Young adulthood is also a time when financial capability is not well-developed and financial well-being is tenuous. Compared to their older counterparts, young workers have a harder time making ends meet, do not plan ahead as much, are less likely to use formal financial products and are less financially literate. Today’s young workers especially are in need of help, as income and wealth accumulation levels of young people are lagging behind those of previous generations at the same age. Despite these challenges, there is great opportunity in that young adulthood is an excellent time to learn various financial lessons that can help people improve their financial capability and well-being for life.
In particular, we think that opportunities for building financial capability might lie in the workplace. Health and wellness at work is not a new idea — shouldn’t that include financial well-being? Most employees do not currently have access to financial wellness services at their workplace or do not know about them, but it is possible that young workers will appreciate having an avenue for improving financial well-being that is not a financial institution, given the high levels of mistrust among today’s young workers of those companies. Some financial wellness service providers report that their benefits are attractive to young workers and report higher usage of their services compared to older workers. But how would young workers feel about addressing their financial issues at work? What are those financial issues? What help, if any, are they getting now? Would they trust their employer to support their financial capability and wellness? If so, what kind of help do they want?
To answer these questions, we’re going on the road, sitting down with around 50 young, low-income workers to hear about their financial needs and what getting help with those needs in the workplace would mean to them. These interviews will take place in four cities — Houston, TX; Chicago, IL; Portland, OR; and Philadelphia, PA — and include workers with an employer between the ages of 18 and 29. We look forward to sharing what we find at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference (as well as in the full project report that’s coming afterwards). Over the next few months, we’ll periodically share how we’re connecting with these young workers and some of their individual stories on this blog.
So, stay tuned…We’ll see you on the road!
CFED’s Financial Security at Work Initiative, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation, explores the current state of workplace-based financial wellness programs and envision how the workplace can be strengthen as a platform for financial security in the future. To learn more about the project, check out:
Tackling Big Integration Challenges: Staff Buy-In & Fundraising
By Santiago Sueiro on 05/25/2016 @ 03:00 PM
Integrating new financial capability products and services into an existing program can be challenging. How do you get front-line staff to buy-in? How do you fundraise to support the delivery of these new services? The six fellows in the Platforms for Prosperity Integration Fellowship, which runs until August, shared these and other common struggles with CFED in Chicago during the second of three learning visits.
The fellows kicked off the learning visit by presenting updates on their integration plans, including an overview of the financial capability services they are integrating into their workforce development programs, how they will deliver the services (through referrals, partnerships or in-house) and where and when in the program the services will be provided. They also discussed accomplishments they’ve made in their integration efforts — and, of course, the challenges they are encountering. Two common themes began to emerge from these presentations.
Integrating financial capability services requires buy-in and input from program staff throughout the entire process. Gaining staff buy-in can be challenging because program staff not only need to understand why integration is important, but they also need the capacity and tools to deliver a quality service.
Fellows are taking steps to ensure that staff are involved in the integration process. One fellow is incorporating TED talks and interactive resources to explain how integration works and why financial capability is important. Another fellow brought together two different teams within the organization to discuss the integration plan in detail. CFED is supporting this process through regular conversations with fellows and site visits that allow staff to learn about the financial capability and integration process.
Fundraising to support financial capability services as part of an integrated approach to workforce development requires a shift in the funding frame. Fundraising challenges are nothing new in the nonprofit world. However, what emerged through discussions with the fellows was the need to shift their approach beyond workforce development and towards a more holistic approach to service delivery. To help the Fellows unpack what this new frame might look like, CFED facilitated a discussion using the questions from the “Making the Case” tool in Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services.
During discussion, fellows articulated how their work to integrate financial capability advances economic opportunity in workforce development programs. They reinforced the need to show funders that their organization displays competency, sustainability, transparency and communication, as well as a vision that adopts financial capability for a positive impact.
We are impressed at how much progress the fellows have made in such a short time. We credit their success to their passion, motivation and curiosity about how to increase the financial security and opportunity of their clients. With just a few months left in the fellowship, we are confident they will continue to make meaningful progress.
Stay tuned for additional lessons learned after our third and final learning visit on July 20-21.
Are Public Housing Authorities the Next Frontier in Financial Capability Integration?
Another tax season has now come to a close, and we’re making progress on integrating financial capability services into the arena of community tax preparation. More than 3 million low-income taxpayers utilize Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to prepare their taxes each year, and many experienced VITA programs are starting or expanding the financial capability programming they offer. Also, the recently introduced bipartisan Refund to Rainy Day Savings bill would establish a pilot to support building emergency savings at tax time, another step toward moving tax-time financial capability integration forward.
So how can we build on the promise of the community tax prep model by scaling up financial capability integration in other social services? There’s a special opportunity to scale up integration at one particular type of service provider: public housing authorities. The federal Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS) offers a platform for connecting potentially millions of households to financial capability services.
Why Public Housing Authorities?
Over 5 million low-income households receive some kind of federal rental assistance, the majority through public housing or the Housing Choice Voucher program. Participants in these programs typically pay 30% of their income toward rent, which protects their household budgets from being devoured by housing costs. But just as a job is not enough to ensure financial security, neither is an affordable rent. For most families receiving federal rental assistance, rents typically go up as their income goes up, discouraging some workers from increasing their incomes.
That’s where the FSS program comes in. FSS gives households the ability to save over the course of five years as their income increases, keeping rents stable and stashing the additional income into an escrow account. That makes it easier for families to work toward building their assets and motivates workers to increase their earnings since they’ll be able to hold onto more of that extra cash. By providing a vehicle for participants to build their assets over an extended period of time, the program can help residents to move out of subsidized housing to market-rate rentals or homes purchased with their savings. This could help make room for the millions of other people on the waiting lists, since only one out of four eligible households currently receives rental assistance.
The FSS program already provides a great platform for financial capability services integration. Participants must sign a contract that incorporates an individual training and services plan (ITSP), which outlines the services and resources that participants need to access to achieve their goals through the program. In fact, the FSS program already recognizes a number of financial capability services—such as financial literacy and homeownership counseling—as eligible resources for the ITSP. Strengthening the financial capability component of the FSS program could help participants hone their ability to manage their financial lives well alongside building savings. And of course, it’s also an opportunity to nurture the aspirations of residents who see the financial achievements and possibilities for their families in the long run.
Ideas for Strengthening Financial Capability Integration
Just as in the community tax field, several organizations are already working to expand financial capability services integration into the FSS program. One great example of this work is Compass Working Capital, a group that partners with local public housing authorities to provide financial education and counseling for FSS participants, matching every dollar they save with three additional dollars from private contributors. Organizations such as Stewards for Affordable Housing for the Future, Preservation of Affordable Housing and Heartland Alliance are also taking steps to pair FSS programs with financial capability services. In addition, CFED is working with Credit Builders Alliance (CBA) to expand on the successful Power of Rent Reporting pilot into Home Forward’s FSS program, providing participants the opportunity to establish or build their credit by including rental payment history on their credit reports.
What else could the asset-building field do to build on the potential of the FSS program? One idea is a partnership between FSS and the Assets for Independence (AFI) program, creating a way for participants to leverage AFI matching dollars to accelerate program toward their ITSP goals. There is also the opportunity to reform FSS program requirements to include more and better financial capability services as part of participants’ ITSP, and to strengthen the connections between local public housing authorities and financial capability service providers in the community. But in order to make the most of the FSS program and ensure that any additional financial capability services reach more residents, we need a stronger partnership and more open dialogue between financial capability practitioners and HUD to identify paths forward.
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Integrating Financial Capability Services: Examples from Community Action and Head Start
By Office of Community Services Staff on 04/27/2016 @ 01:00 PM
Editor’s Note: April is National Financial Capability Month, and we are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the moments in one’s lifecycle when financial capability matters. Today, the Office of Community Services in the Administration for Children & Families at HHS provides examples of organizations that have successfully integrated financial capability services into their programs. This article was originally posted here.
Today, we are providing examples of what the integration of financial capability services into existing social service programs is like at the local level. For an overview of the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) efforts, read yesterday’s post. This is in honor of National Financial Capability Month. We also want to highlight the progress over the last year since we released Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services (the Guide). Developed in partnership with CFED, the Guide provides community-based organizations with field-tested tools for planning how to integrate financial capability services into their existing programs.
The Guide was designed to be adaptable so that virtually any organization that serves low-income people would find the tools and resources in the Guide useful. There are many different kinds of existing programs that have been integrated with financial capability services, including employment, housing and domestic violence programs. The examples we’re featuring today are from organizations in the community action field, which is supported by the Community Services Block Grant, and two of them have focused on serving Head Start parents. We’ve selected these examples because they illustrate how the Guide is benefiting the organizations and people that ACF supports.
NeighborImpact, a community action agency serving central Oregon, and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro), which serves Wayne County, MI, have both used the Guide to extend financial capability services to parents in their Head Start programs. They both started out using the tools in Section 1 of the Guide, “Envisioning Your Clients’ Financial Capability.”
Wayne Metro plans to integrate free tax preparation assistance, financial coaching and matched savings accounts into their Head Start parent programming. To begin their planning process, Wayne Metro used Tool 1 to identify how parents were currently managing their finances and Tool 3 to envision what improved financial capability would look like for Head Start parents.
NeighborImpact determined that financial education, financial counseling and financial coaching services would be the most relevant services for the parents in their Head Start program. Last month, NeighborImpact started offering financial fitness workshops for Head Start parents in four central Oregon communities to raise awareness about the free financial coaching and counseling services available through HomeSource, their program that supports home buyers and home owners.
Both organizations determined what services they wanted to offer and worked to identify what approach they would use to provide services: refer, partner or do-it-yourself. Wayne Metro used Tool 4: In-House Capacity to assess the capacity of their staff to deliver financial capability services. They discovered that their staff needed additional training in order to provide quality referrals to financial capability services. They have trained 19 Family Service Workers on integration, and they continue to offer staff training opportunities.
NeighborImpact’s HomeSource and Head Start staff completed Tool 9: The Referral Plan to think through a strong internal system for referring Head Start parents to financial counseling. HomeSource staff trained Head Start teachers on how to complete a “menu of services document” with parents during home visits. The document essentially serves as a referral form, allowing Head Start teachers to check the financial capability services in which parents express interest. It also includes a line for the parent’s name and contact information so HomeSource staff can contact the parents about the services they selected. Staff from both programs meet regularly to discuss ways to increase referrals.
The Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) is different from NeighborImpact and Wayne Metro; it’s the statewide association of the 23 community action agencies operating in Massachusetts. MASSCAP has been using the Guide as a technical assistance tool with their member agencies. These member agencies serve people from cities, suburban areas and rural areas, and all of these people have unique and varied needs. The Guide has helped member agencies tailor the financial capability services they offer to the specific needs of their clients. The step-by-step tools helped MASSCAP’s members work through a deliberate process to develop theories of change and logic models for their financial capability services. All of this work creates a solid foundation for offering services to their clients and measuring the success of the services.
These innovative organizations demonstrate how integrating financial capability services can enhance existing programs and benefit clients. As Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg said last year in the ACF Financial Capability Letter to State Human Services Commissioners, “…we believe that incorporating stronger attention to strengthening financial capability can help families succeed economically, and can help human services programs better accomplish their goals.” We hope that these examples have inspired you to think about how financial capability integration can work for your organization and the people you serve.
The Problem with “Financial Literacy”
By Dominique Derbigny on 04/26/2016 @ 02:00 PM
Although the economy is slowly recovering from the Great Recession, many households lost wealth in the crash, and the financial forecast remains bleak for other low- to moderate-income families. In fact, almost half (44%) of all Americans are liquid asset poor, meaning they lack a sufficient cash cushion to absorb financial shocks. So in the aftermath of the financial crisis, demands escalated for financial education for the general public, with increased support from social service programs, educators and policymakers. Currently, 21 states require high school students to learn personal finance or be tested on personal finance. Financial interventions are certainly warranted during this turbulent time — but how much of an impact can financial education alone have?
We often hear programs use the terms “financial literacy” and “financial capability” interchangeably, but these complementary terms have distinct meanings. Literacy refers to knowledge or competency in a certain area, thus financial literacy refers to knowledge of financial concepts. But the corollary to financial literacy is “illiteracy,” and the term is problematic not only because of the negative connotation, but because it suggests that people with money troubles struggle because they don’t know any better. The reality is more complex than that. Likewise, focusing solely on financial education also implies that it's the need to know how to manage one’s money that is most important; however, many people know how to manage money but don't have access to the financial products and services they need to do so most effectively.
That’s why we at CFED focus on financial capability, instead. Financial capability is “the capacity, based on knowledge, skills and access, to manage financial resources effectively,” which means being able to put that knowledge into practice to make sound financial decisions. And evidence that financial capability works continues to pile up.
Evidence reveals that we learn more from education if it is experiential and relevant to our lives. Just as financial literacy is just one component of financial capability, financial education is merely one type of financial capability service. Other services, such as financial coaching and credit building, are seeing promising results when tied with housing and workforce development programs. Studies show that pairing financial education with other services, such as access to checking or savings accounts, may yield greater results in terms of behavior change. Meanwhile, results of evaluations of financial education programs are mixed at best, and often don’t indicate strong, lasting knowledge gains. If we focus merely on financial literacy, we miss the opportunity to spur behavior change by connecting knowledge with action.
For several years now, CFED has been pushing organizations to expand beyond financial literacy and education. The Financial Capability Lifecycle offers ideas for where and when to connect individuals with appropriate financial capability services. For example, we are currently partnering with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on the Youth Employment Success initiative to help youth employment programs integrate financial capability services. Youth participating in these programs (ages 16-24) are starting to develop financial habits, earn money and plan for their lives beyond high school. This project aims to support youth employment programs in pairing financial education with access to youth-friendly financial products, FAFSA support and savings opportunities to help youth start off on the right financial footing.
What are ways that your programs can move beyond financial education to support individuals and families across the lifecycle in meeting their financial needs and goals? Tweet your ideas using #FinCapWorks!
Resources for Integrating Financial Capability Services into ACF Programs
By Office of Community Services Staff on 04/26/2016 @ 12:00 PM
Editor’s Note: April is National Financial Capability Month, and we are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the moments in one’s lifecycle when financial capability matters. Today, the Office of Community Services in the Administration for Children & Families at HHS explores resources available to help support financial capability services integration. This article was originally posted here.
The mission of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is to foster health and well-being by funding well-designed programs and working as partners with state and community organizations for the effective delivery of human services. One strategy that we are using to support this mission is to encourage the integration of financial capability services into social service programs. (Financial capability is the capacity, based on knowledge, skills and access, to manage financial resources effectively.)
As we near the end of this year’s National Financial Capability Month, we are taking two days to highlight what we are doing here at ACF to foster this work. In this blog, we provide an overview of our efforts. Tomorrow, we will focus on what this work looks like at the local level, featuring examples from several organizations.
You may be asking, “What are financial capability services?” Financial education, credit counseling and matched savings accounts* are examples of financial capability services, but there are many more. To learn about 10 common financial capability services, check out About Financial Capability Services.
We heard from organizations that wanted to offer these services to clients in their programs, but they were not sure how to get started. To help, we released Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services (the Guide) last year. The Guide provides practical tools for developing a plan to integrate financial capability services into an existing program.
The field has received the Guide with excitement! More than 1,500 people registered for webinars about the Guide from April to December 2015. We also have had more than 3,200 hits for the Guide from our website. Additionally, our partner CFED organized hands-on workshops across the US.
We created a series of five short training videos to provide tips for using the resources in the Guide. We also partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration on a webcast series. These resources are a great place to get started if you want to learn more.
We are also working with CFED to provide technical assistance to organizations as they use the Guide. For example, we are currently working with three local United Ways. We expect to learn along with these organizations, and we will develop additional resources for the field based on what we learn.
Tomorrow, we’ll dig deeper into the local impact of the Guide, with some examples from the field.
*One type of matched savings account is an Individual Development Account (IDA). The Assets for Independence (AFI) program funds eligible organizations to implement projects that provide IDAs to eligible individuals. Participants open an IDA and save earned income that is matched by project funds. The combined participant savings and project matching funds will be used for an allowable asset: a first home, a business, or post-secondary education or training. Projects also assist participants in obtaining the skills and information necessary to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Grantees are encouraged to tailor the strategies and services they offer to the needs of their project participants and the opportunities in their community. Examples of activities in this area include financial education, asset-specific training, financial coaching, credit-building services, credit/debt counseling, and assistance with tax credits and tax preparation. If you’re interested in offering AFI IDAs, visit the AFI Resource Center and learn how to apply for an AFI grant.
The Power of Partnership: How to Tackle Financial Insecurity, City by City
By Arohi Pathak on 04/21/2016 @ 11:00 AM
In an average major American city, almost half (45%) of all households are on the brink of financial insecurity. These households are “liquid asset poor,” which means that they do not have enough savings to live above the poverty level for three months if they suffer an income disruption such as a job loss. The inability to bounce back from such financial pitfalls is not only detrimental to families, but also hurts the economic potential and growth of the cities in which they live.
And even though the economy has been improving across the nation, the lack of economic opportunity and mobility in many cities like Baltimore and Newark have resulted in high crime, blighted neighborhoods, spiraling unemployment, low educational attainment and high incarceration rates, all of which undermine local development and progress. Furthermore, municipalities that want to address these issues are challenged by dwindling government resources and increasing demand for services.
So how do we address financial insecurity at the local level? How do we leverage existing resources to temper financial insecurity while also investing in the types of services necessary to build economic opportunity?
One option is to embed financial empowerment strategies into local government infrastructure. Local leaders and municipalities across the country have begun to realize that in order to revitalize and grow their economies, they need to invest in programs and services that provide opportunity, help residents break out of cycles of debt and poverty and empower them to build financial security. As a result, comprehensive financial inclusion programs are emerging as an important priority for many city leaders.
What makes for a successful financial inclusion strategy at the local level? According to a recent report by the National League of Cities, it includes several key features:
- A local elected official — such as the mayor or city council member — who serves as a champion for financial inclusion
- A structural “anchor” for financial inclusion strategies, such as a dedicated office or staff person within City Hall
- A cluster of financial inclusion efforts that the city already supports (such as VITA or financial education) that can be built upon with new and innovative programs
Financial empowerment efforts, such as those as piloted by the New York-based Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, show that by combining financial capability with social services, municipalities can increase financial stability and improve long-term client outcomes. Another important feature of successful financial empowerment is coordination and community-based partnerships, which ensure that municipal strategies are effective and wide-reaching. By coordinating and leveraging the full range of community resources at their disposal, cities can be more innovative and provide services that build on each other — rather than replicating services that don’t result in desired outcomes.
Combining municipal strategies with social service delivery and community-based support is the hallmark of the Family Assets Count initiative, a partnership between CFED and Citi Community Development. Family Assets Count is a two-year, data-driven initiative that has worked swith community-based partners and local policymakers to expand financial stability in ten cities across the country, resulting in embedding financial empowerment strategies within local (and state) government infrastructure.
Here are some examples of those successful strategies and partnerships:
- Miami: ACCESS Miami is a city-wide initiative embedded within the city government that provides residents with the tools and financial education they need to realize economic self-sufficiency and prosperity. ACCESS Miami focuses on four clusters of financial inclusion efforts: access to existing benefits, access to capital, building wealth and accumulating assets, and improving financial literacy. The initiative pools communitywide resources and private investment, and coordinates with local partners to offer one-on-one, customized supports to their clients, as well as financial seminars, financial empowerment coaching, free tax prep assistance, job training, job listings, financial supports, small business assistance, housing assistance and more.
- Boston: In 2014, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, along with partners from the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Jewish Vocational Service, formed a new Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) to tackle poverty and income inequality. The agency’s mission is to link those seeking financial security and wealth generation with access to capital, financial education, and financial services. In 2015 the initiative provided access to free tax prep at 27 community-based locations and offered a comprehensive range of services, including free financial coaching, a career specialist, help with getting a job, access to benefits and more at two Financial Opportunity Centers. The Boston OFE also used its unique position and influence to partner with a community coalition in supporting two key pieces of legislation to protect consumers from predatory practices of the debt buyer industry and to increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to provide more refund dollars to Boston’s most economically vulnerable taxpayers at tax time.
- San Francisco: San Francisco also has an Office of Financial Empowerment housed within the Office of the Treasurer. Supported by City and County Treasurer Jose Cisneros, the Office uses City Hall’s strength and influence to help San Francisco’s lower-income residents become financially empowered and stable. The agency created several, first-of-their-kind programs to help lower-income people get access to financial education and counseling, low-cost checking and savings accounts, college savings accounts, electronic pay solutions, responsible payday loans and more. Some of the successes from SFOFE include increasing banking through the Bank On program and establishing a matched savings program to help Kindergarteners save for college.
- Philadelphia: In 2013, the City of Brotherly Love launched the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) to work with multi-sector partners to increase the financial well-being of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. As a result, the City currently integrates financial capability services into other social services through their Financial Empowerment Centers, which provide such community-based services as financial education, debt management, credit counseling, low-cost banking and savings for homeownership or college. Now the city is success of CEO forming a new collaborative called the Philadelphia Financial Empowerment Network. This Network made up of innovative leaders from local asset building organizations, academia, regulatory agencies and financial institutions, which will be tasked with creating a shared vision of fighting poverty and removing barriers to opportunity.
- Delaware: States like Delaware also getting in on the financial security game. Led by the State of Delaware and the United Way of Delaware, the $tand By Me program is a coalition of community partners that provide one-on-one financial coaching, help navigating college and financial aid applications, access to consumer-friendly alternatives to pay-day loans and check cashing stores and much more. In recognition of the close link between financial health, physical and mental health and overall wellbeing, this financial empowerment project is uniquely housed within Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services. And it is a priority of Governor Markell, who believes that economic security for Delawareans is a core element of economic development. While $tand By Me is not a Family Asset Count initiative, it is nevertheless an important example of how state-wide investment can be instrumental to building economic opportunity and financial security.
If you are interested in learning more about building economic opportunity and financial security through municipal strategies, here are some resources to get you started:
- Examples of financial inclusion strategies at the municipal level can be found on CFED’s Family Assets Count site, as well in the CFED report on Building Economic Security in America’s Cities.
- More information on strategies supporting the creation of a OFE can be found on Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund site.
- The National League of Cities has research on successful municipal strategies around financial inclusion.
CFED Raises Awareness of the Importance of Financial Capability During Month-Long Campaign
By Sean Luechtefeld on 04/07/2016 @ 10:00 AM
In 2014, President Obama declared April National Financial Capability Month “to renew our drive to give all Americans the tools to navigate the financial world and gain the economic freedom to pursue their own measure of happiness.” For the second year in a row, CFED is engaging in a month-long campaign aimed at raising awareness about the importance of strategies that build financial capability for all Americans. The campaign kicked off with the release of our Financial Capability Lifecycle and will include new resources all month to help you make the case for financial capability services in your work and in your community.
As CFED’s Vice President for Programs, Kate Griffin, argued on our blog, the story of financial capability comes back to one simple thing: what’s going on in your life? What are you worried about, dreaming about, planning for? That’s the lynchpin upon which you will make financial decisions. Across the lifecycle, there are multiple times and ways in which we are primed to look around us — for advice, for products, for a hand — before we make a decision that impacts us financially. We’re calling this the “Financial Capability Lifecycle.” To paint a picture of how financial capability develops, we’ve looked at three types of lifecycle events, including universal experiences, expected or recurring experiences, and the unexpected. For more about the ways in which these moments affect—and are affected by—one’s financial capability, check out the Lifecycle here. Then, share your feedback so we can make this tool as useful as possible to the field.
Beyond the Lifecycle, we’re rolling out a series of other useful resources this month. For example, as the 2016 tax season draws to a close, we’ll be reflecting on the successes of the VITA field over the past several months and releasing a white paper highlighting the promise of community tax preparation. We’ll also be releasing some helpful resources about how to integrate financial capability services into existing programs, sharing information about the interplay between race and financial well-being, and more.
Most importantly, we want to know about and help promote your financial capability month activities. Are you planning an event or releasing a new resource? Let us know how we can help spread the word by sending us an email.
Finally, if you want to contribute to this month-long celebration of financial capability but aren’t planning your own activities or don’t a lot of resources, we’ve put together some easy-to-use tools to help you get involved. Check out the Financial Capability Month 2016 toolkit to help spread the word about the importance of your efforts to boost financial capability for the individuals, families and communities you serve!
An Asset Innovation Fund Could Take IDAs to the Next Level
By Jeannie Chaffin, Guest Contributor on 04/05/2016 @ 10:00 AM
Editor’s Note: April is National Financial Capability Month, and we are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the moments in one’s lifecycle when financial capability matters. Today Jeannie Chaffin, Director of the Office of Community Services in the Administration for Children & Families at HHS explores the potential of an Assets Innovation Fund to expand financial capability through the AFI program. This article was originally posted here.
Once again, the President has proclaimed that April is National Financial Capability Month. In recognition of the importance of financial capability to the well-being of low-income individuals and families, the Administration for Children and Families has included in the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget a proposal to create and evaluate an Asset Innovation Fund within the Assets for Independence (AFI) program.
The AFI program provides support to local demonstration projects to develop knowledge about what practices work to assist families with limited means to use limited-use matched savings accounts called individual development accounts (IDAs) to accumulate assets. Currently, AFI participants can use their IDAs for a first-home purchase, post-secondary education or training, or business capitalization. The proposal to create an Asset Innovation Fund would allow ACF to test and evaluate a wide variety of innovative strategies for asset building and financial capability.
For example, with the flexibility to allow more assets, an Asset Innovation Fund project could offer children’s savings accounts (CSAs) in which parents’ savings and the project match are combined in a 529 college savings plan. CSAs have become a growing area of interest, as cities, states and others recognize the importance of starting early with savings. Research shows that young people with savings are more likely to get better grades and complete more years of education, regardless of their family’s income. One study found that a youth with designated school savings of less than $500 before reaching college age is almost two and a half times more likely to graduate from college than a youth with no savings.
Another emerging area of interest is emergency savings. Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer’s recent work $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America describes the critical importance of cash for household budgets. While the authors depict conditions for those in some of the worst conditions in our country, this main finding is relevant for families with even moderate incomes. Tax refunds often help families bridge gaps in their household budgets, or pay off debt. Edin and Shaefer recommend giving families the option to save a portion of their Earned Income Tax Credit, thus giving them access to an emergency fund when they are in a pinch later in the year. Under the Asset Innovation Fund, community-based organizations could create innovative new matched savings programs to encourage emergency savings and other asset building. EARN, a non-profit in San Francisco, California and former AFI grantee, created the EARN Starter Savings Program using private funding. This innovative six-month program allows users to get started saving for the goal of their choice, including emergency savings, and encourages them with small matches. This program and others like it may allow participants the chance to gain more financial stability before working toward a larger asset purchase, such as a first home.
Additionally, ACF proposes to use the Asset Innovation Fund to support projects focused on the integration of financial capability services into existing programs that serve low-income and vulnerable populations. As with CSAs and emergency savings, financial capability integration is an area of recent innovation in the asset building and financial capability field. AFI is well positioned to support innovative pilots that address gaps in the knowledge, such as integrating financial capability services with programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and health navigators. Participants in these programs could also be connected to credit and debt counseling or free tax preparation at a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Association (VITA) site, for example. Under the Asset Innovation Fund, ACF could explore and test models of financial capability service integration, both with and without IDAs, to better understand how such services can improve outcomes and wellbeing for the populations we serve.
In the more than 15 years since the AFI program was created, there have been significant advancements in the state of research and knowledge on asset-building and related fields. With the authority to create an Asset Innovation Fund, AFI could build on these developments and push them even further, to better serve low-income children, youth, and adults in the United States and to expand their financial capacity and economic well-being.
Jeannie Chaffin is the Director of the Office of Community Services in the Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Financial Wellness Programs: What We Know and What We Don’t
By Joanna Ain, Meredith Covington, Guest Contributor and Geraldine Hannon, Guest Contributor on 04/04/2016 @ 03:00 PM
Editor’s Note: April is National Financial Capability Month, and we are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the moments in one’s lifecycle when financial capability matters. Today we’re highlighting how employers can empower their employees to meet their financial goals by offering financial capability services at work.
Today is National Employee Benefits Day — an opportunity for employers to rethink how they can help their workers make the leap from “just getting by” to “getting ahead.” Financial wellness programs (FWPs) are a key tool for leveraging the workplace as a place where people can access a variety of financial services and products, leading to widespread changes in the financial capability of the workforce.
Traditional Approaches vs. the “Wellness” Approach
Financial wellness in the workplace draws on several existing methods to improve the financial capability of workers. Drawing on models of workplace health wellness initiatives, traditional interventions such as retirement benefit packages and financial education programs are blended to create comprehensive financial wellness programs (FWPs) aimed at supporting the “complete financial picture” of employees. Lately, this has also included more opportunities to act on financial information beyond a retirement account, which aim to help employees tackle the key financial stressors they are facing today.
For those new to the field, here are some resources to help employers start thinking about how to best incorporate financial capability services into the workplace:
- In honor of National Employee Benefits Day, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) has released resources targeted to employers (for their employees) including:
- In CFED’s 2016 book, What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation, Regis Mulot, executive vice president of Staples, Inc. Global Human Resources, outlines how the company identified the specific needs of their employees (young, mobile) and created a video game that spoke to their employee demographic, built financial confidence and reduced financial stress.
- In November 2015, CFED’s Platforms for Prosperity Summit highlighted how to best connect workers to financial capability services, both in and out of the workplace. Videos and resources from the summit are available here.
- Employers looking for a more holistic view on how households can build financial capability and how employers can think about the needs of their employee can check out CFED’s Household Financial Security Framework for how to think about their employees’ needs on a household level. Employers can also make use of CFED’s guide to thinking about financial integration with Building Financial Capability.
Benefits of FWPs
There is considerable evidence supporting the benefits that financial wellness can have for employees and employers. FWPs are linked to a number of improvements in employer outcomes such as reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and organizational engagement. For employees, accessing FWPs can lead to reduced financial stress and increased personal well-being. Components of FWPs are often based on practices established in the financial education field. These programs are well-studied, but have produced mixed results. For instance, several studies report improvements in financial knowledge and behaviors after employees attended educational seminars. However, not all forms of financial education were equal. Retirement seminars, credit counseling, just-in-time interventions and needs-driven programs have the greatest amount of evidence supporting them while services like print media have little empirical support.
Many researchers are skeptical of the field of financial literacy and argue against the use of financial education. Criticisms include claims that the field has failed to demonstrate and replicate strong, peer-reviewed research to justify the widespread use of financial education. There is also evidence that financial interventions have only small effects on financial behavior and those effects diminish greatly over time.
FWPs’ unique marriage of traditional and non-traditional interventions make them especially attractive to both employers and employees. Proponents contend that workplaces are a natural environment for employees to learn and employ financial skills and that they present unique opportunities to scale financial wellness efforts. Scalability can lower costs of financial products for employees who would find much higher prices if they purchased services from the retail market. FWPs can also be used by employers for recruitment, talent management and brand-building.
Although components of FWPs vary greatly, services typically include financial counseling/planning, online and classroom education, automatic credit reports and employer-sponsored lending programs. Workplace FWPs could be improved with a few changes though, including:
- Personalizing interventions
- Making programs self-directed, accessible and ongoing
- Ensuring that features are interactive, timely and relevant
- Focusing on prevention over response
Factors Limiting Progress in the Field
While many components of FWPs have been studied in-depth, these programs suffer from a “hard data blind spot,” as employers are often unable to acquire specific data on an employee’s complete financial position to accurately measure program effectiveness, establish a list of best practices and demonstrate a defined return on investment. A 2014 conference of industry professionals identified several recommendations for future research:
- Create a set of preliminary best practices.
- Identify and quantify potential benefits to employers.
- Develop wellness milestones.
- Analyze how demographic and life stage differences may affect efficacy.
- Partner with employers to measure outcomes.
Because the field has yet to determine parameters for FWPs, research is often inconsistent and limited in its ability to evaluate and make program recommendations. Without a better understanding of the features, attractiveness, demand and perceived benefits of employer-based FWPs, further progress in the field will be slow.
So how can you help advance the knowledge base of workplace FWPs? The Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis is currently conducting a survey of employers as part of its Employer-based Financial Wellness Programs (EFWP) project to understand companies’ interests in and experiences with financial wellness programs for their employees. To take the survey, you must represent an organization that is offering or is interested in offering a financial wellness program to its employees AND you must be able to answer questions on behalf of your organization regarding employee benefits and characteristics (e.g. human resources personnel or other leadership positions). Survey participants will receive a $50 Amazon gift card from CSD for completing a 10-15 minute survey. Participation is completely voluntary and your answers will be recorded anonymously. The live survey can be accessed here. Data from the survey, as well as from other research activities within the EFWP project, will be presented in several publications, including a toolkit for employers interested in offering a FWP.
Meredith Covington is Project Director of Employer-based Financial Wellness Programs at the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis.
Geraldine Hannon is a Research Fellow at the the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis.
Watch Now: New Training Videos for Planning Your Financial Capability Integration Project
By Kori Hattemer on 03/03/2016 @ 09:30 AM
In 2015, CFED partnered with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to publish Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services (“the Guide”) to help practitioners plan how to integrate financial capability into existing services. Since then, the Guide has become the go-to resource for practitioners who see the power of financial capability integration. Today, we are excited to announce the release of five short training videos that walk viewers through the Guide.
Building Financial Capability is an interactive resource to help community-based organizations develop a plan for integrating financial capability services into existing programs, such as housing, workforce development or Head Start. The new training videos provide instructions, tips and examples to make the most of the tools and resources in the Guide. Each video is shorter than six minutes so that direct service staff and key partners can get a quick overview of what the Guide is and how to use it. They’re also a great primer on what it means to integrate financial capability services for those who may be new to the concept.
In the first video in the series, Jeannie Chaffin, Director of ACF’s Office of Community Services, and Kate Griffin, Vice President for Programs at CFED, describe the importance of financial capability integration and provide an introduction to the Guide. In the next four videos, Kori Hattemer and Rita Bowen, two of the Guide’s co-authors, provide an overview of each section in the Guide and how to use it.
Financial Stress Isn't Always Bad
By Joanna Ain and Bryan Ashton, Guest Contributor on 03/02/2016 @ 03:00 PM
Many college students, at the end of their teenage years or just into their early twenties, are on their own for the first time. They are starting to get a sense of what the world looks like with less parental guidance — and more financial freedom. But that freedom can be stressful. For many college students, financial stress adds layers of complication to their existing anxiety about classes, midterms, papers and on-campus living. And of course, too much financial stress can impact students’ academic performance, mental health and social life.
But there can be value in actually increasing an individual’s level of financial stress. A graduating engineering student with $50,000 of debt, who has pinned down future employment with a management consulting firm, may just need some gentle coaching and a calming influence to help deal with any money worries. On the other hand, a second-year student with an undecided major and mounting debt might put off planning for her financial future and start racking up credit card debt. She may figure that she is in debt up to her eyeballs anyway so a few more Uber rides, dinners out and iced caramel lattes won’t make a big difference. Helping her to build an awareness of her financial standing can be a catalyst for behavior change. Otherwise, it might be difficult for her to see the ramifications (both short- and long-term) of the debt that she has accumulated until she leaves school and is out on her own. While too much stress is debilitating, some stress can be productive.
That’s where financial coaching can be valuable. Take the Ohio State University’s (OSU) Scarlet and Gray Financial (SGF). Housed in the OSU Student Life Student Wellness Center, SGF helps students on the cusp of financial independence manage stress through a personalized goal-driven financial process. This process encourages the development of action steps to move students toward financial awareness and behavior change. SGF’s just-in-time component builds interventions into critical points of a student’s life, such as helping them get information as they are deciding whether or not to apply for an emergency loan. Additionally, there is a check point in a student’s second year where SGF can provide a financial checkup for the student.
So how do you moderate financial stress when students are facing a major financial hurdle? When a student comes to SGF having significantly over-borrowed during their first or second year, overwhelming the student with the magnitude of the problem may put them into an unhealthy panic. Slowly easing them into an awareness of their debt and a plan to move forward is key, and ideally, the coach builds a long-term relationship working with the student to do that. This comes from establishing trust with the student and developing a relationship deeper than just finances. Finances are a very difficult topic to discuss, and time is therefore spent initially talking with the student about less anxiety provoking topics to gain their trust.
While there has been significant attention paid to the negative impact of financial stress, less attention has been paid to identifying the appropriate level of financial stress and its role in financial decision making. Colleges can present great case studies to understand financial stress. Not only do they demonstrate how financial stress may negatively impact student success, they can also show how increasing financial stress can help students develop healthy financial attitudes and behaviors. A healthy amount of stress can help students make smarter, more proactive and more realistic financial choices in the present and become more resilient to financial pressures in the future.
Bryan Ashton is an Assistant Director within the Student Life Student Wellness Center, overseeing financial education and outreach, Scarlet & Gray Financial peer to peer financial coaching and additional functional areas in the SLSWC.
First Stop on the Path to Financial Capability Integration: Houston!
By Santiago Sueiro on 02/29/2016 @ 01:00 PM
When an individual comes to a workforce development organization, they usually have one thing on their mind: getting a job. When you’re unemployed and bills keep piling up, it can be hard to think about much else. But for many folks, just getting a job isn’t going to solve all their financial problems. Many job seekers could also use help accessing safe financial products, setting a budget, building good credit and more.
That’s where the Bank of America Platforms for Prosperity Integration Fellowship comes in. Through this fellowship program, CFED is providing support to six senior workforce development leaders from across the country in advancing financial capability services within their organizations. Fellows are working to design an integration strategy that can provide valuable financial capability services to their clients, setting them up for financial success when they do land a steady job.
In January, CFED organized a learning convening in Houston, TX, during which we worked with the Fellows to develop and refine their integration strategies. At the convening, Fellows participated in group discussion, workshops and activities which included:
- Theory of Change presentations: CFED facilitated discussion around the Fellows’ theory of change. A theory of change includes a description of how clients manage financially now, the future outcomes that would demonstrate an improvement in clients’ current situation and the services that will help clients reach those outcomes. Each Fellow engaged in a client interview process to learn more about their client’s financial lives. The insights from these interviews changed their understanding of the types of services their clients needed.
- Panel discussion: Representatives from the THRIVE Network, Goodwill Industries of Houston and the Volunteers of America presented how they have integrated financial capability services into their workforce development programs. Fellows engaged in a meaningful conversation around funding partnerships and opportunities. They will use these insights to pursue relationships with nationwide partners who could help to strengthen their financial capability services.
- Change management activities and discussion: Each Fellow completed an exercise where they rated their comfort level around key financial capability change topics, such as staff buy-in, funding and partnerships. They will use the results of this exercise to plan for organizational change as they implement new financial capability services.
Throughout the convening, Fellows highlighted the challenges of implementing programs given the complex nature of their client’s situation. They shared stories of their clients’ struggles and the difficulties in providing services and products that fit client needs.
We are grateful for our gracious hosts, the Volunteers of America, and for everyone who joined us throughout the convening: the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Houston THRIVE Network and Goodwill Industries of Houston.
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