City Leaders Champion Financial Inclusion Programs that Put Families First

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This is the second post in a new blog series on financial inclusion. The series explains what financial inclusion is and provides examples and action steps to help city leaders start or strengthen financial inclusion efforts. This post focuses on the role of city leadership in using financial inclusion to help strengthen and provide a safety net for struggling families.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to local residents at Christopher Columbus ParkBoston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to local residents at Christopher Columbus Park. Credit: MattConti/NorthEndWaterfront.com walsh-pull-quote

As noted in the first post in this series, financial inclusion strategies are gaining momentum in cities across the country and making a difference in the lives of countless American families.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing an uptick in the number of city leaders that are rallying behind innovative and proven programs that help low-to-moderate income residents to enter the financial mainstream.

NLC’s recent report, which highlights findings from a national scan of city leaders, found that 66 percent of cities surveyed reported having a mayor and/or city council member who designated financial inclusion issues as a ‘top’ or ‘high’ priority.

Figure03_builldingblocksFindings from our national scan also showed that cities in which financial inclusion is a high priority for elected officials have the greatest number of programs and/or activities operating in the community.

San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros has made financial inclusion one of his highest priorities, claiming that his duty to safeguard San Francisco’s money also extends to improving the financial stability and well-being of the city’s residents. His leadership has turned San Francisco into a hub of innovation for financial inclusion programming, including Bank On San Francisco, PayDay Plus SF and more recently Kindergarten to College, all of which are being replicated in other cities across the country.

By promoting awareness of financial issues facing low-to-moderate income families, city leaders can use their bully pulpit to engage stakeholders and the public about the impact of financial challenges on families. City leaders are in a unique position to spearhead partnerships between city agencies, nonprofit organizations and private partners. By partnering with local stakeholders, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh launched Boston’s Office of Financial Empowerment to provide comprehensive financial inclusion services to the city’s diverse population.

Elected officials also report that financial institutions and foundations are more responsive to funding requests that demonstrate invested city leadership and broad stakeholder alignment. In 2008, Mayor John Hickenlooper (now Governor Hickenlooper) gained broad support when he formed the Denver Economic Prosperity Task Force, composed of 35 members representing local government, policy makers and community and business leaders, to coordinate the city’s response to residents’ economic challenges. Current Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s administration has continued to support financial inclusion, and has created the Denver Financial Empowerment Center.

In Memphis, Tenn., Mayor A C Wharton used his authority and status to create a task force of cross-sector stakeholders committed to reducing poverty in the city.

NLC’s report details additional ways city leaders are supporting programming in their cities, such as:

  • Making policy changes that promote financial inclusion,
  • Leading or supporting coalitions to align and connect the city’s efforts,
  • Giving the green light for financial support to launch or sustain financial inclusion programs, and
  • Explicitly dedicating staff time to financial inclusion by hiring a dedicated city employee or creating a new agency or financial empowerment center to house the city’s financial inclusion efforts.

Strong city champions who are willing to take action to start or strengthen financial inclusion programs are able to customize strategies to meet the needs of their residents, and often plant the seeds for innovation that can be replicated at the state or federal level. While municipal leaders are the linchpin to a successful financial inclusion city system, they cannot do it alone.

Mara Heneghan
About the Author:
Mara Heneghan is a summer intern with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Mara at Heneghan@nlc.org.