The CFE Fund: Helping cities help their residents find financial stability

Working in communities across the country, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund is implementing programs and training leaders to help expand access to financial services and education for unbanked and underbanked individuals.

November 30, 2017

Viewpoints’ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Jonathan Mintz, CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund.


CFE Fund CEO Jonathan Mintz
Jonathan Mintz is the CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund.

When the residents of a city have enough income to afford both their expected and unforeseen expenses — from making the car repairs necessary to ensure dependable transportation for work to paying bills without relying on a credit card — their families, their communities, and the broader economy all benefit from that type of financial stability. Yet, many people lack the financial education to balance a budget and the banking access to securely save for the future.

That’s why, since launching in April 2012, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund has established relationships with nearly 50 city governments across the U.S. as we work to fulfill our mission of improving the financial stability of low- and moderate-income households, including those who are “underbanked.”

“In the U.S., 51 million adults — approximately 20 percent of the population — are considered underbanked.”

In the U.S., 51 million adults — approximately 20 percent of the population — are considered underbanked, which means they have a basic checking or savings account but also rely on costly alternatives like credit cards.

As CEO of the CFE Fund, I’m proud of the work we do to help these cities help their residents, by providing services like free financial counseling and expanded access to banking, along with consumer protections from debt collectors, payday lenders, and others in the financial marketplace.  

We do this by embedding financial empowerment strategies into each city’s infrastructure. We work with local government officials, financial institutions, and community organizations to implement innovative programs like Financial Empowerment Centers and Bank On — two CFE Fund initiatives that work to help residents manage their finances, access safe and affordable financial products, and ultimately become more financially stable.

Reaching those that need help the most

Overall, the CFE Fund supports more than 65 local banking access coalitions across the country through our Bank On program, helping make safe and affordable financial products available at tens of thousands of bank branches across the country.

This matters, because bank accounts are an important part of a person’s financial stability and long-term income mobility: they help people safely make routine transactions, save safely and automatically, and establish relationships that can lead to accessing affordable credit and other products in the future.

“Bank accounts are an important part of a person’s financial stability.”

As an example of this in action, the City of Lansing, Michigan’s Bank On coalition ­worked with the Ingham County Parole and Probation Office to help individuals on parole open bank accounts.

At Bank On fairs, parolees learned about the benefits of banking and what to look for when selecting an account, and were able to meet with representatives from financial institutions.  

In addition, parole officers were trained to discuss the relevance of banking with their parolees, and worked closely with Lansing Financial Empowerment Center counselors who could address credit history concerns and help open an appropriate bank account for direct deposit.

Investing in leadership leads to success

Over the past five years, we’ve found that while there are many elements to what makes a program work, having dedicated and successful leadership is essential. However, investing in a program’s leadership entails more than just using grant funds to cover parts of a salary line.

Simply put, there are many moving parts in a complex initiative like Bank On, and cultivating successful leaders who can help fulfill the mission of the program is a team effort.

“Cultivating successful leaders who can help fulfill the mission of the program is a team effort.”

With the generous financial support of Wells Fargo, CFE Fund’s Bank On Fellowship Program is able to provide technical assistance and funding for full-time leaders at five Bank On coalitions across the U.S. — in Houston; New Haven, Connecticut; Akron, Ohio; Mobile, Alabama; and Tampa, Florida — over the next two years.

The fellowship provides funding, intensive technical assistance and training, and a structured cohort where members can learn from each other and share ideas.

Through these lessons learned, Bank On fellows are better prepared to engage and build relationships with financial institutions, community service providers, and politicians — all of which remains critical to our goal of helping local governments improve the financial stability of its residents.

The CFE Fund’s early experience with Bank On fellows has already shown promise and early success — Bank On coalitions are leading the way in connecting residents to safe and affordable accounts, and supporting coalition leadership is a critical, concrete step to help them do what they do best.

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