Cities for Financial Empowerment Creates Success Stories

Wednesday, April 11th, was a busy day in our Financial Literacy Week, featuring a Bell Ringing and event with the Cities for Financial Empowerment, and a virtual field trip to the NYSE in partnership with Discovery Education featuring students affiliated with key non-profit partners, who rang the Closing Bell.

The morning Opening Bell honored Cities for Financial Empowerment, one of the most innovative groups making a real difference in financial empowerment on the ground. The group was established and is co-led by Jose Cisneros, the Treasurer of San Francisco, and Jonathan Mintz, the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs for NYC. Both Jose and Jonathan have very busy “day jobs”, but have embraced financial empowerment as part of their mandate and become national leaders in the field. It is worth checking out the CFE website to learn more about which cities are part of the CFE and the important and innovative work they are doing.

I admire CFE for many reasons – many of which were raised in the conference following the Opening Bell. About 50 select leaders from academia, non-profits, government and the private sector joined us for this discussion. The panelists were an accomplished group including Jose and Jonathan, as well as Linda Gibbs, Deputy Mayor of New York City, Andrea Levere, CFED and Ben Hecht, Living Cities. A few themes emerged from the discussion. The field of financial empowerment has come a long way over the past 4-5 years, emerging into the mainstream where “the public narrative has changed” – in no small part due to the work of the CFE cities. Cities often have few monetary resources to devote to these efforts, but do have many assets they use effectively – from zoning regulations to ads on the sides of buses. Cities have a strong distribution network for reaching low and moderate income people – and this can be a powerful tool for financial empowerment. The importance of financial empowerment is becoming “mainstreamed” by embedding it in social services programs. Through the diversity of approaches in different municipalities, we all get to learn about what works and what doesn’t (which makes transparency about results critical). Many of the today’s most promising approaches to financial empowerment began as initiatives in one of the CFE cities (see their website for interesting details and data). By joining together, the cities are sharing what they have learned, building on each other’s efforts, helping other local and national government leaders and non-profits, and their collective voice is being heard by national policymakers.

Financial empowerment has come a long way in the past 5 years, and the group seemed optimistic that there is even greater potential when we bring together all of the sectors represented in the room.