Across the country, many local leaders have launched Offices of Financial Empowerment (OFEs) or similar municipal offices that serve as a home for financial empowerment programming efforts. Check out these resources to learn from CFE Coalition city experts about why city leaders invest in OFEs; what OFEs do; and pathways to launching OFEs.
People work hard to provide for their families and improve their financial circumstances. And while community organizations and social services across the country invest heavily in helping them, at the same time vulnerable communities have long been targets of fraudulent, predatory financial products and services. Just as local governments play an increasingly meaningful role in financial empowering their residents, they also can play a unique role in protecting residents’ hard-earned assets.
Building off of work begun by former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, and NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) then-Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, the CFE Fund was tapped to help local governments across the country develop and enhance their capacity to offer their residents consumer financial protection and empowerment. Local consumer protection agencies can augment financial empowerment gains by protecting consumer assets through licensing, regulation, enforcement, mediation, and outreach and education.
In 2017, with generous seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the CFE Fund selected four local governments to launch local offices of consumer protection. These cities have each successfully launched their efforts, developing consumer complaint infrastructure, identifying enforcement priorities, and pursuing legislative reforms. The CFE Fund recently announced a second cohort of local administrations selected to raise consumer awareness of and protect residents from COVID-19 related scams, and continue planning for broader consumer financial protection capabilities within the city.
Please contact Kant Desai, Principal, with any questions or to learn more.
Financial Empowerment Centers (FEC) offer professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a free public service to enable residents to address their financial challenges and needs as well as plan for their futures. In partnership with seed funder Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Capital One, The JPB Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, the CFE Fund is promoting FEC replication through cohorts of local leaders who are developing, launching, and implementing financial counseling as a free public service, along with strategic research projects to enhance the success of financial counseling.
The Financial Empowerment Center Model
Financial Empowerment Center clients receive free, one-on-one professional counseling assistance with money management, budgeting, reducing debt, establishing and improving credit, connecting to safe and affordable banking services, building savings, and referrals to other services and organizations. Professionally trained counselors support their clients in navigating complex financial challenges and choices, helping them identify and meet present challenges and future ambitions. Local governments offer FEC financial counseling as a free stand-alone public service, but also via integration into other social services including housing and foreclosure prevention services, workforce development, prisoner reentry, benefits access, domestic violence prevention, and more.
Financial Empowerment Center Evaluation Findings
In 2013, the CFE Fund awarded its first grants to replicate the model in five cities through a $16.2 million, 3-year investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies. An Evaluation of Financial Empowerment Centers: Building People’s Financial Stability As a Public Service, demonstrates the success of the 5-city implementation, drawing on data from 22,000 clients who participated in 57,000 counseling sessions across the first 5 city replication partners.
Summer Jobs Connect is an ambitious initiative spearheaded by the Citi Foundation and the CFE Fund to support young adults seeking summer employment, enhancing these municipally-led programs by integrating structural linkages to safe and appropriate banking products, services, and education. In the initiative’s seventh year, the CFE Fund worked with 23 city governments and their local Summer Youth Employment Program partners to provide additional job positions to local residents of predominantly low incomes between the ages of 14 and 24, as well as connect them to appropriate bank and credit union products and meaningful financial education.
Through the CFE Fund’s leadership, our city partner’s efforts and the Citi Foundation’s support of over $36 million, Summer Jobs Connect has provided over 15,000 young people with summer work experience and connected financial empowerment services. Beyond a seasonal paycheck, Summer Jobs Connect positions early job experiences as entry points for lifelong success in the financial mainstream.
Bank On coalitions are locally-led partnerships between local public officials; city, state, and federal government agencies; financial institutions; and community organizations that work together to help improve the financial stability of unbanked and underbanked individuals and families in their communities. These first-generation banking access programs have already connected tens of thousands of people to safe and affordable account; Bank On programs also work to raise public awareness, target outreach to the unbanked, and expand access to financial education.
The CFE Fund’s Bank On national initiative builds on this grassroots movement, supporting local coalitions with strategic and financial support, as well as by liaising nationally with banking, regulatory, and nonprofit organization partners to expand banking access, including through the first-ever Bank On National Account Standards, updated for 2021 – 2022. The CFE Fund announced an online Bank On account validation and certification process; banks and credit unions across the country, at no cost, can submit for validation products they believe meet the national Standards. The list of financial institutions offering such products continues to expand across the country.
Financial Empowerment Centers offer free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling to enable residents to address their financial needs and plan for their futures.
In this March 2013 press release, the CFE Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies announce the opening of five new Financial Empowerment Center programs to provide free, personalized, and professional financial counseling to residents of Denver, CO; Lansing, MI; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; and San Antonio, TX. Clients receive assistance with money management, budgeting, reducing debt, establishing and improving credit, connecting to safe and affordable banking services, building savings, and referrals to other services and organizations. Counselors are professionally trained, and support their clients in navigating complex financial decisions. Financial counseling is integrated into public services including housing services, homeless prevention, foreclosure prevention, workforce development, asset building, financial services access, and domestic violence prevention.