Financial Inclusion Takes Center Stage in Nashville

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This is a guest post by Erik Cole.

This is the fourth post in our financial inclusion blog series. This post highlights Nashville’s Financial Empowerment Center and the impact that their programs and services are having on the community.

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Nashville Mayor Karl Dean with clients at the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center. (photo: Erika Chambers ©2015 United Way of Metropolitan Nashville)

In 2013, Nashville Mayor Karl F. Dean partnered with the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville to create the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center (FEC), which consists of two main centers and six satellite sites across Davidson County. The Center was established to strategically address the needs of the 17 percent of Nashville’s population who live below the poverty line.

Based on New York City’s model, Nashville’s Financial Empowerment Center offers free one-on-one financial counseling to residents. Counseling services are integrated into existing social service agencies and public locations such as Nashville’s public libraries. Counselors are professionally trained and provide their clients with assistance in:

  • Budgeting and building savings
  • Reducing debt
  • Opening safe and affordable bank accounts
  • Establishing and improving credit

Mayor Dean quoteThe Financial Empowerment Center is a key piece of Nashville’s economic and community development portfolio. This portfolio also includes Bank On Music City, which connects unbanked individuals and families to bank accounts and quality financial education programs; the Nashville Alliance for Financial Independence; and the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides free tax return assistance to low- and moderate-income people.

Making Financial Inclusion a Reality
In order to make the idea of the Financial Empowerment Center a reality, Mayor Dean’s office and the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville pursued funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund. In January 2013, the CFE Fund selected Nashville, along with four other cities, to receive a $16.2 million, three-year investment. The other cities chosen include Denver, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Lansing, Mich.

Since opening in March 2013, Nashville FEC staff have helped over 3,200 people and held more than 10,000 individual counseling sessions. The FECs have helped residents reduce their collective debt by over $1.9 million and increase their savings by over $500,000.Rosa Moore quote

With the help of her FEC coach, Rosa has continued to attack her debt, paying off several accounts in full. She also pursued consumer protection claims against a creditor as part of a national settlement. She has further built an emergency savings account to protect her in the future.

Nashville has seen success integrating financial counseling into a multi-cultural community center, the Casa Azafrán Community Center. By co-locating with existing nonprofits at the center, this FEC site is able to offer wrap-around financial support services to individuals in need and help move them toward self-sufficiency. This center has effectively created an environment in which residents have a one-stop-shop for all their social service needs.

The FEC’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity promotes financial education and counseling with the ultimate goal of helping families in need to secure and maintain a home. This partnership with Habitat has resulted in four families becoming homeowners to date, and several more are currently working towards homeownership. These families began this journey with large amounts of debt and very low credit scores.

Looking to the future, Mayor Dean and the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville plan to integrate other partners into the FEC model. They are working with local partners to integrate financial counseling into youth employment and workforce development efforts as well as public housing and support services for homeless families.

This November, Nashville will host NLC’s annual Congress of Cities conference. Don’t miss our workshop on financial inclusion, which will feature an in-depth look at the innovative programs that cities, including Nashville, are implementing to address their residents’ financial challenges. The workshop will also highlight the results from our recent report, Local Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview.

Erik Cole
About the Author:
Erik Cole was named Nashville’s first Director of Financial Empowerment in February 2013. The Nashville Financial Empowerment Center is a public/private partnership based in the Mayor’s office. He is also a former two-term Metro City councilmember.