Issue 8/ July 2016
Letter From The President and CEO

In a climate perhaps best characterized by discord, both here and abroad, I am struck recently by what brings us together, and the conscious choices we make to build and participate in community. The idea that we move forward further by working together and learning from each other has resonated deeply in the CFE Fund's recent work.

Last month, we brought together city partners from our Financial Empowerment Center initiative to celebrate their successes and provide a venue for exchanging their hard-won wisdom. As these partners shared strategies for sustaining and expanding municipally-led financial counseling services, including by reflecting on key takeaways from our upcoming FEC evaluation, the truly collaborative community they have built was clearly evident. (For more on the FEC initiative, take a look at the new video, below, featuring counselors discussing the value of being part of a shared movement, among other model features.)
The Financial Empowerment Center Initiative
The Financial Empowerment Center Movement
This same sense of community is apparent across the eight cities partnering with us to embed targeted finan cial education and banking and savings strategies into summer youth employment through our Summer Jobs Connect initiativeThrough regular calls, emails and in-person gatherings, cities have helped each other figure out winning strategies for working more closely with credit unions, offering incentives to support good banking behaviors, and making systemic financial empowerment changes to summer youth infrastructure. The last Summer Jobs Connect partner meeting was timed to overlap with the 15-city CFE Coalition Forum in Miami. SJC partners shared these strategies with CFE Coalition cities, many of which are experimenting with adding financial empowerment into their Summer Youth Employment Programs; in return, CFE Coalition cities spoke about their efforts integrating financial empowerment into a range of city services, illustrating the range of possibilities that might ripple from Summer Jobs Connect successes.

In addition, as we speak with Bank On coalitions large and small as part of our national Bank On work and Capacity Grant funding (still accepting applications-- apply now!), the strength of each of these localized efforts is directly related to the community each has built--banks, credit unions, city government leaders, community nonprofits, and advocates all coming together to connect residents to the financial mainstream.

Finally, the critical importance of building community was most evident at the CFE Fund's recent conference in New York City on the professionalizing field of financial counseling and coaching, which brought together a broad range of stakeholders working to advance the professionalism of this field. With this shared goal serving as a common thread, attendees put aside institutional egos and focused on bettering their own work through bettering the common work we all share --ensuring that financial counseling and coaching is a high-quality, professional part of the antipoverty toolbox.

I am heartened by the evidence, again and again, that the sum is more than each of its parts, and that the best way to move forward is to do so together.

In that spirit, thank you as always for your emails, ideas, and partnership!  

Jonathan Mintz


In Winter 2015, the CFE Fund completed a first round of site visits to the five Next Generation awardees (Boston, New Haven, Oakland, San José, and Shreveport). The CFE Fund is providing in-depth technical assistance to mayors and their teams in each city to build o ut municipal financial empowerment strategies. 

The Financial Check-Up tool at a tax site.
Boston is continuing to integrate the Financial Check-Up Tool, a financial wellness screening, into existing social service programs. This tool is used to create a high-level snapshot of financial health, based on providing clients with a copy of  their credit report, discussing elements of the report, and referring clients to other social services. The City is currently conducting an evaluation of the screening tool as a way to further understand client impact and is exploring ways to better embed the tool in city and nonprofit social services.

Both New Haven and Shreveport have convened key stakeholders to develop recommendations for future financial empowerment efforts in each city. New Haven's efforts will be targeted at issues faced by the re-entry population and low-wage earners, while Shreveport is centering their work on female head of households and low-wage earners. Over the past months, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp hosted three meetings of the New Haven Mayoral Financial Empowerment Commission; the Commission will share its recommendations with the Mayor in early summer. The City of Shreveport is in the final stages of creating its Financial Empowerment Task Force, with the first meeting set for this Fall. 

As the first stage in creating a comprehensive financial empowerment blueprint, the City of Oakland team will be focusing on a financial empowerment workforce strategy, with the immediate next step of incorporating a financial empowerment pillar within their revamped Workforce Investment Board. 

Finally, San José's first priority is to further enhance financial empowerment efforts within their Summer Youth Employment Program. This includes identifying bank partners to provide safe and affordable youth accounts and finalizing a robust financial education curriculum. San José is also working on a financial empowerment strategic plan, which it plans to release this summer, spanning both youth and adult workforce efforts. 


The CFE Fund is excited to share new research from our Summer Jobs Connect  initiative, generously supported by the Citi Foundation, which leverages the scale and infrastructure of Summer Youth Employment Programs to create banking access and other financial empowerment opportunities. Our eight SJC city partners are: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.

In April, we released Summer Jobs Connect: Connecting Youth to Developmental and Financial Goals, which  details SJC youth participants' views on financial empowerment, as explored in focus groups across partner cities, and highlights how financial empowerment can support positive youth development (PYD) efforts.  PYD describes ideal outcomes for youth, as well as the processes through which they achieve these outcomes. 

Key findings include:
  • Municipal financial empowerment has a critical role in positive youth development. Financial knowledge and skills are particularly important parts of the positive pathways described in the PYD field. Policymakers and leaders at the local level can play a key role in providing opportunities that support positive youth development, such as those in Summer Jobs Connect.
  • Youth see financial capability as key to personal development. Focus group research shows that youth, themselves, see financial empowerment as critical to their personal development, building confidence, competence, connection, and agency. In addition, focus groups underscored the importance of supporting financial problem solving as a way to meet PYD goals.
  • Youth voices should be involved in program design.  Focus group findings also suggest ways to target SYEP financial education more effectively to youth interests and circumstances, including through addressing financial goals in distinct and relevant timeframes and connecting financial education to the payroll experience. 
Our Report follows Summer Jobs Connect: Building Sustainable Banking and Savings Programs in Summer Youth Employment, which  we released earlier this year, detailing our SJC city partners' strategies to provide banking access and targeted financial education as part of their local SYEP, and how they are working to sustainably integrate these efforts into SYEP systems.
The CFE Fund is continuing to make grants of up to $10,000 each through our Bank On Capacity Grant Fund , generously supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. The Fund supports new, rebooting, and existing local Bank On coalitions as they work to partner more effectively with financial institutions and other key partners to connect their unbanked and underbanked residents to safe and appropriate mainstream accounts. The  grant application   is still open, with proposals accepted on a rolling basis.

The CFE Fund team also supports local Bank On efforts through its national partnerships, including working with financial institutions looking to align product offerings with new national standards. To that end, we recently released a Request for Expressions of Interest for organizations interested in a long-term partnership serving as a financial institution product evaluator for Bank On National Account Standards consistency; please forward to any organization that  possesses the experience and interest to partner with us.

For more information on how we can help, please contact our new Bank On lead, David Rothstein, at


Antigua Minister Hon. Samantha Marshall opening the FEC site
The CFE Fund is providing technical assistance to two international partners, the Country of Antigua and Barbuda and the Canadian nonprofit organization Prosper Canada.

In Antigua and Barbuda, the CFE Fund is working with staff of Antigua's Ministry of Social Transformation to replicate the Financial Empowerment Center initiative, with support from the U.S. State Department's Organization of American States. The CFE Fund is working with the Ministry of Social Transformation to refine the FEC model for the local financial environment; key issues include a deep focus on teaching resident budgeting techniques and managing the use of loans. Antigua's team of financial counselors is currently being trained, and the program is set to launch this month; they cut the ribbon on the facility this week. Initial target clients will include government benefit recipients.  

The CFE Fund is also partnering with Prosper Canada, a Toronto-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for Canadians living in poverty. The focus of the technical assistance engagement is to develop a framework for scaling financial empowerment efforts in Canada. In April, the CFE Fund conducted an intensive training for the Prosper Canada team to share insights on designing, launching, and sustaining financial empowerment initiatives through working with partner nonprofits in the country, along with lessons learned on how to help partner organizations develop their capacity to manage such programs. The Canadian Federal Government recently allocated more than  $5.3 million  in public funding to partner with Prosper Canada to launch financial empowerment initiatives around the country; the Government of Ontario also recently announced a  $1.5 million investment  in replicating this work in the province. 


The CFE Coalition, made up of mayors from 15 cities representing almost 22 million residents, who are working to advance innovative municipal financial empowerment initiatives through the power of city government, released their 2016 Policy Agenda. The release of the Agenda, which includes policy priorities aimed at expanding economic opportunity and financial inclusion for individuals and families with low incomes, echoes in pa rt the proposed rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on payday loans. Specifically, the CFE Coalition's Policy Agenda highlights the CFPB's work to address the structural problems of payday loans that lead to damaging cycles of debt for consumers, including through restricting the ability of lenders to access consumers' bank accounts to collect payment.

The CFE Coalition's 2016 Policy Agenda focuses on key policy areas including expanding access to financial products and services, improving financial capability, promoting asset building opportunities, and strengthening and expanding consumer financial protections. The CFE Coalition advocates for the following policy priorities:
  • Reforming Payday Lending Regulations: 
  • Supporting strong, transparent CFPB regulations and enforcement.
  • Reforming payday and short-term alternative loans to consider basic ability to repay, cycles of repeat borrowing, and misaligned loan durations.
  • Expanding Access to Safe and Affordable Financial Products:
  • Strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) service test to facilitate account access, emphasize performance, and ensure CRA plans are tailored to a community's specific needs.
  • CFPB establishment of consistent, narrow standards for bank account screening consumer reporting agencies, and issuance of regulatory guidance for accuracy and error resolution.
  • Improving Access to Quality Financial Counseling and Coaching:
  • Federal identification of high-quality financial counseling models, and inclusion of outcome requirements in federal funding streams, to improve household financial security.
  • Increasing federal funding of financial counseling within existing and new programs and funding streams.
  • Combating Excessive Municipal Fines, Fees, and Penalties:
  • Reducing or eliminating excessive fees and fines, and eliminating predatory and discriminatory practices of private debt collection companies.
  • Allowing residents with low incomes to clear past debt and lift license suspensions through amnesty programs, and ending incarceration and license suspensions as debt collection tools.
The CFE Coalition is currently chaired by San Francisco and Lansing. Member cities also include: Boston, Chicago, Hawai'i County, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Savannah, Seattle and St. Louis.


By Sarah Gerecke, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing Counseling, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
(Delivered at the CFE Fund's Professionalizing Field of Financial Counseling and Coaching Conference , generously supported by Citi Community Development, May 5, 2016 in New York City)

I am honored to be part of your program today, and to use the example of housing counseling as you imagine a world where there is an accessible, reliable, effective network of financial counselors and coaches.
So what does it mean to be professional, anyway? The word "profession" derives of course from "profess": you declare to others that you are part of a group of people with certain skills, and you vow to meet the standards of the group.
HUD's housing counseling program offers a comparison for professionalizing the financial counseling and coaching field (and there is obviously significant overlap). The program was born in the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. HUD began certifying housing counseling agencies in 1971, and began directly funding agencies in 1974. Today there are 2,000 HUD approved housing counseling agencies and last year they provided services to 1.3 million families. This conference identifies four key pillars of professionalism: consistency, quality, community, and accountability. The HUD housing counseling program offers instructive examples of grappling with each of the four pillars. 
HUD enforces quality standards through training requirements--skills and knowledge--and a clear theory of change. Every client must have an intake, an assessment of their financial capability and housing affordability, an action plan, and follow up. This reflects a theory of service delivery that involves a real time interaction between an expert counselor and client, with services customized for the client's needs to achieve the client's housing goals.
Training resources for housing counselors have evolved substantially. Today there are numerous classes and tests that housing counselors can take. During the foreclosure crisis, though, the scammers flourished. In 2010, Congress required that housing counselors working for HUD-approved agencies have to be individually certified by HUD, and must pass a test administered by HUD. Implementation is expected to begin soon.  

HUD believes that the counselor certification requirement will ultimately benefit counselors and the profession by offering a government credential validating their knowledge and also telling the consumer that this practitioner is part of a national network regulated by the Federal government.

Just as quality is important to the profession of housing counseling, so too are consistent standards. Content standards regulate the topics covered in a counseling session. The industry has created voluntary National Industry Standards, which complement HUD's own standards for the content and delivery of counseling.
Perhaps the most important element of both sets of standards is the Code of Ethics. The counselor has to act in the client's best interest. HUD prohibits steering and requires the counselor to offer a choice of at least three for-profit service providers if they are making referrals. HUD does not permit anyone in a position of trust at the agency to benefit personally from the housing counseling relationship. The National Industry Standards also include a detailed code of ethics for the counselor. 

Over time, and often at the urging of funders, housing counseling agencies created trade associations. This path was not easy. In addition to National Industry Standards mentioned above, there are two national member-driven counseling organizations, the National Housing Resource Center, and the Coalition of HUD-approved Housing Counseling Intermediaries.
Trade associations offer a key attribute to the profession: they permit the profession to speak with one voice, to profess. And this is a huge step. Prior to the trade associations, groups would routinely go to funders, make the pitch for funding using different words and phrases, and most tragically in my view, bash the competition by saying "We are a quality organization, don't fund them, their counseling is terrible." Well, this approach undercut everyone and led to a widespread belief that the quality of counseling was poor across the board. In fact, the quality of housing counseling is exceptionally high. There are a number of indicators of this. HUD conducts on-site reviews frequently, usually every three years, and issues findings or even disaffiliate agencies that do not meet our standards. We take complaints very seriously. Last year, I am proud to say that out of 1.3 million people served, HUD received 24 complaints; about half were founded.
Trade organizations offer other benefits. They can mobilize membership in a way that people inside the club and outside of it knows what the profession stands for. They can be a funding conduit. They can be a vehicle for creating a single point of contact for the consumer. And, these organizations become wonderful feedback loops for continual improvement and training.
Government can help create community as well. At HUD, we are the referral source, funder, capacity builder, regulator and oversight entity for the HUD-approved housing counseling network. We fund national training and provide technical assistance to help meet our standards. We disseminate best practices through our newsletter, which is another way to create and nurture the counselor community. 

Accountability comes two ways: first, through independent oversight and, second, through published results. HUD provides the lion's share of oversight, and we partner with intermediaries who run networks under contract to us. Our main concerns are that Federal money is spent properly, that the client receives quality services, and that the organization itself is strong.
Last year HUD introduced additional outcomes measures so that we could better tell the story of housing counseling, like how many clients developed a sustainable budget, or how many gained access to housing resources like down payment assistance. As a result, we can tell Congress that last year 403,000 families developed a budget as a result of their work with a housing counselor.
Independent research is invaluable for measuring outcomes. After all, the first question people outside the profession ask is "Does it work?" Well, because housing counseling has a set of standards, and clearly identified membership, and a service that was recognized as relevant and important during the financial crisis, it can answer that question. HUD has counted more than 30 studies of housing counseling in the last ten years; most have documented that counseled borrowers working with HUD-approved housing counseling agencies have more savings, better credit, fewer debts, fewer delinquencies, better loan modifications, and far fewer foreclosures than similar, uncounseled borrowers.
Who is excluded?
Once you are a member of a profession, it's worth considering who you have excluded. In the space occupied by housing counselors, and by financial counselors and coaches, many people offer services that look similar, yet carry a hefty fee along with expansive promises. Debt management companies promise to make the annoying collection calls go away. Foreclosure assistance firms say they can stop your foreclosure. Credit repair firms claim they will make your score go up. To me, the benefit of professionalizing a nonprofit industry like ours is that the consumer will not be fooled into wasting hard-earned dollars on inappropriate, ineffective and even unscrupulous services. And so when you profess that you are a member of the HUD housing counseling network, you are saying to clients that you can trust us, you can expect consistent and expert service delivery meeting standards validated by a third party, with an entity like HUD standing behind the consumer if services are subpar, and with outcomes that are validated independently. Professional housing counselors really can be trusted advisors. 

Today you have the opportunity to consider all four attributes of professionalism--consistency, standards, community and outcomes--and measure where the universe of financial counselors and coaches fit. I would look at the journey of housing counselors, who have a government-supported network, an appropriation from Congress, robust peer support networks, high levels of customer satisfaction, and will soon have a Federal credential, and ask whether that's the vision that the financial counseling industry needs and wants today.
If some of the vision is appealing, then the next question is how to transform an entire industry to get there. Financial counselors have exactly the right set of skills to do that. After all, financial counselors are in the transformation business. They take clients who have challenges, and help them through coaching or counseling to change their behavior and access resources to achieve their financial goals. It's not so different to think about transforming an industry. You need to assess your collective needs, develop an action plan, identify the resources to get there, commit to training, consider whether collective action would help you, and measure outcomes. You need to define who is good enough to be in your club, who is not quite good enough, and who are the evildoers who should be excluded. It's hard work. But if anyone knows how to work hard to achieve transformative results, it's a financial counselor. So go to it!
Financial Empowerment "In The News"