How Financially Inclusive Cities Develop a Clear Vision for Success

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This is the third post in our blog series that 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 importance of developing a vision and setting goals to help provide a safety net for struggling families and strengthen local economies.

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As strategies to help families stay connected to the financial mainstream become both more prevalent and innovative, developing a vision and goals is necessary for city leaders to implement effective programs that improve services for financially vulnerable families. Just as importantly, cities should be able to track the progress of these efforts. A long-term strategic vision and a set of clear, measurable goals that are informed by data are crucial components of an effective local financial inclusion agenda.

Developing a Shared Vision
City leaders can involve a variety of stakeholders, including city agencies, nonprofits, private sector partners and residents in developing a collective, long-term vision for financial inclusion efforts. Collaboration can increase stakeholder buy-in and ensure a diverse group of voices are included throughout the process.

Establishing a dedicated “home” for financial inclusion efforts can enable a city to sustain long-term financial inclusion programming for families. In NLC’s recent report on financial inclusion, based on the results of our in-depth scan of cities across the U.S., 29 percent of cities reported having a specific “home” to coordinate financial inclusion efforts, ranging from the designation of a single employee as the city lead for such programs to establishing a financial inclusion office, department or local coalition.

  • In 2005, Savannah, Ga., created Step Up Savannah, a nonprofit collaborative, to lead its efforts to reduce poverty in the city. Step Up Savannah has grown to encompass all of the city’s financial inclusion efforts. The organization convenes and provides resources to over 90 local partners, serving as the cornerstone of financial inclusion and guiding Savannah’s long-term vision of financial stability for all residents.
  • In 2006, New York City launched its Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) within its Department of Consumer Affairs. The NYC OFE is the nation’s first municipal department specifically designed to educate, empower and protect low-income residents. While creating a new city department may not be a fast or easy option, it offers a long-term solution that ensures a streamlined approach to addressing residents’ financial challenges. Other cities, including Boston, Chicago, Columbia, S.C., Lansing, Mich. and San Francisco, have created similar offices.

Getting to the Goals
After developing a shared vision guided by an understanding of community needs, cities can establish measurable goals to implement their vision. Thirty-four percent of cities surveyed for our report indicated they have at least one citywide financial inclusion goal in place. Formal goal setting allows cities to monitor progress and ensures that impact can be measured.

CITIES_Figure12_webTo develop goals, cities can identify short- and medium-term objectives aligned with their long-term vision. Goals should be measurable, applicable and established collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure buy-in and accountability.

Citywide goals cited by survey respondents included tax returns completed through VITA sites and accounts opened through a Bank On program.

Virginia Beach, Va. Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr. set a citywide goal to “connect 500 low-income families to mainstream financial institutions and help these families avoid foreclosure, avoid predatory lenders and stretch budgets in tough economic times, insuring they are financially fit for the future.”

Using Data to Guide Decision-Making
With the support of a strong champion, using data to develop a shared vision and measurable goals positions a city to implement financial inclusion programming that effectively addresses residents’ needs.

CITIES_Figure08_webNLC’s report revealed that 20 percent of the cities surveyed rely strongly on data to guide their financial inclusion efforts. Cities can collect data to identify residents’ needs through surveys, focus groups, or national data sets maintained by federal agencies such as the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service.

Almost a third of cities surveyed conduct needs assessments, and over a third report asset mapping, both of which can help pinpoint and direct targeted resources to geographic areas of greatest need. Just as data is essential when developing a vision, it is equally important when evaluating programs and impact. Look out for a further discussion of evaluative data in a coming post!

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