Meeting the Emergency Moment: Key Takeaways from Delivering Remote Municipal Financial Counseling Services

Local governments across the country are working to help their residents weather the health and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cities and counties, that means deploying their Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs), which provide professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a public service. Local leaders were able to offer FEC financial counseling as a critical component of their emergency response infrastructure; the fact that this service already existed, and was embedded into the fabric of municipal anti-poverty efforts, meant that it could quickly pivot to meet new COVID-19 needs, including through offering remote financial counseling.

This brief describes how FEC partners identified the right technology; developed skills to deliver counseling remotely; messaged the availability of FEC services as part of their localities’ COVID-19 response; and shared lessons learned with their FEC counterparts around the country.

Navigating From a Good Idea to Public Financial Empowerment Commitments: An Outline of the CityStart Process

This brief, Navigating From a Good Idea to Public Financial Empowerment Commitments, outlines the experiences of the past two CityStart cohorts in moving from general interest in financial empowerment to concrete commitments to municipally-led efforts. The CFE Fund’s CityStart engagement supports local leaders in convening stakeholders, identifying local challenges and opportunities, aligning with Mayoral or municipal priorities, and then strategically planning for successful government programming. Using the experience of 17 cities who have participated already in CityStart, this Brief can provide city governments and key stakeholders interested in getting started with financial empowerment work with an understanding of how the CityStart engagement can facilitate the success of that process locally.

COVID-19 Resources

The CFE Fund has a number of supportive resources related to COVID-19!

This page lists all safe and affordable accounts certified as meeting the Bank On National Account Standards that can be opened online.

Municipal financial empowerment is a fundamental aspect of help and recovery. As city governments and others help residents navigate the financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the following resources sheets can provide guidance on safe financial measures during this tumultuous time. The CFE Fund will continue to develop resources and add them to this page.

  • Banking Messaging Toolkit: We hope you will customize the components within this Banking Messaging Toolkit for your own communications efforts, and also share the toolkit with any other organizations whose clients might benefit from safe banking during this time. Contact us for access to the toolkit!
    This toolkit includes an array of resources that can be used and customize locally including:

    • Talking points;
    • Template social media language;
    • Social media graphics;
    • A template press release for coalitions, local governments, or other partners to use in announcing their efforts; and
    • Examples of ways that local governments, Bank On coalitions, and others already are highlighting the importance of banking access to receive payments and guiding residents to certified Bank On accounts.
  • Importance of Banking Access During COVID-19: It has never been more important to have a banking account. This tip sheet outlines the importance of a safe and affordable mainstream bank or credit union account for managing your money remotely, including to receive wages and government benefits securely through direct deposit and make payments remotely.
  • Engaging Unbanked People About Safe Banking Accounts, Particularly During This National Crisis: This tip sheet draws on findings from recent CFE Fund focus group and survey research on how to communicate the value of banking accounts to unbanked people, which are especially important during this crisis moment. The CFE Fund also produced a more in-depth version of this information as a Bank On Playbook chapter.
  • Safe Financial Measures to Take During COVID-19: This tip sheet lists the top ways to manage your finances if you have been financially affected by COVID-19.

Have ideas for resources that would be helpful in providing guidance on meeting the financial challenges of COVID-19? Get in touch!

Making the Case for Banking Access: Talking to Unbanked People about Bank Accounts

This report, Making the Case for Banking Access: Talking to Unbanked People About Bank Accounts, explores effective messages for communicating with those who are unbanked about the value of safe accounts. The CFE Fund commissioned strategic communications firm RALLY and polling research firm PSB to field a multi-city series of focus groups and surveys to uncover what types of messaging would most effectively move unbanked people to open accounts; a subset of the research focused on the financial attitudes, habits, and goals of unbanked people, as well as on Spanish-speaking unbanked people and how messages might best engage them to open accounts.

CFE Coalition City Expert Topic: Leveraging Tax Time to Build Financial Stability

Tax season is a critical financial empowerment moment for millions of families and individuals across the country. Each year, the tax season is a moment where filers are thinking about their finances; for filers with low and moderate incomes, tax season usually also means receiving a large lump sum in the form of a tax refund, often bolstered by the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In addition, EITC-eligible filers can access free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) from trained professionals. This brief details why city leaders are investing in tax time initiatives, provides details on how these programs operate, and highlights how cities have gotten started doing this critical work.

Overview: Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) Counselor Training Standards

This overview summarizes the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) model’s Counselor Training Standards. The Standards delineate the breadth and depth of the financial content areas, counseling and coaching skills, practice and experiential learning, and socio-economic and cultural context setting necessary to serve the diverse needs and backgrounds of FEC clients. The Standards also include a Code of Ethics that promotes responsible, professional and ethical financial counseling, furthering the profession of one-on-one financial counseling.

All FEC partners are required to train their financial counselors in accordance with the requirements and competencies detailed in these Standards. To facilitate counselor trainings, the CFE Fund has approved national and regional training providers’ courses that align with the Standards; additionally, the CFE Fund encourages local training providers (partner organizations, training consultants, community colleges, or universities) to submit their trainings for CFE Fund evaluation and approval.

Click here to learn more about the FEC Counselor training process, and to see a list of currently approved training providers.

2017 Bank On Data Pilot: Accessing Local Data

This Bank On Coalition Playbook chapter, 2017 Bank On Data Pilot: Accessing Local Datadetails the 2017 Bank On Data Pilot and includes instructions for accessing the local Bank On data at the city and zip code level. In 2017, the CFE Fund partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRBSTL) to collect centralized metrics through a national reporting platform for financial institution partners with a Bank On certified account. Already, data from the first year of Bank On data reporting shows just how strong the demand is for safe, affordable, and functional Bank On accounts. Click here to learn more or to access the local data tool.

Read or download the full Bank On Coalition Playbook here.



Bank On National Account Standards (2019-2020)

The updated Bank On National Account Standards identify critical product features for bank or credit union accounts appropriate to those currently outside of the mainstream banking system. Core account features include low costs, no overdraft fees, robust transaction capabilities such as a debit or prepaid card, and online bill pay. Notable changes in the 2019-2020 Standards include allowing paper statement fees that cannot exceed $2 per month, reflecting both costs experienced by financial institution partners and the strong online functionality of certified accounts.

The Present and Future of Bank On Account Data: Pilot Results and Prospective Data Collection

This report, The Present and Future of Bank On Account Data: Pilot Results and Prospective Data Collection, details the Bank On Data Pilot, which collected and measured quantitative data on 2017 Bank On account usage at four pilot financial institutions with certified accounts: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo. The CFE Fund partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRBSTL) for this pilot, which reveals the kinds of relevant account data that can be collected, how it might be collected, and what it might show; as well, this pilot highlights the benefits of a central reporting system for financial institutions with Bank On certified accounts and for their coalition partners across the country.

The anonymized dataset at the zip code level is available for download here. Want to play with the data yourself? A newly published Bank On Coalition Playbook Chapter,2017 Bank On Data Pilot: Accessing the Data, details how Bank On coalitions can use the Local Bank On Data Tool to produce reports of this data locally to support their work to expand banking access and the availability of Bank On accounts locally.

The CFE Fund and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis hosted a webinar on this report and the Data pilot. Click here to watch the webinar.

CFE Coalition City Expert Topics: Reentry Integration Strategies

Nearly 10 million people exit local, state, and federal prison each year after completing their incarceration. Given the high rates of recidivism, the cost of incarceration, and the impact of incarceration on families, many city partners have begun testing financial empowerment strategies to help improve safe and successful reentry. This brief  details the various strategies our city partners have taken to integrate financial empowerment into core social services, to support the formerly incarcerated reentering the community, and to achieve the “Supervitamin Effect” to boost programmatic outcomes.