The San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment (SF OFE) helps the city’s lower-income residents gain greater financial security and enter the “financial mainstream.” A private-public partnership housed within the Office of City and County Treasurer José Cisneros, the SF OFE uses the strength and influence of the City Hall as well as of its nonprofit partners to help the City’s underserved communities access financial education and counseling, low-cost checking and savings accounts, college savings accounts, electronic pay solutions, responsible payday loans, and more.
Bank on San Francisco, one of SF OFE’s earliest programs, has assisted “unbanked” residents open bank accounts at one of 14 partner banks and credit unions. By having these accounts, the residents save up to $1,000 a year in fees charged by high-cost check cashers and keep less money in cash, becoming less vulnerable to loss or theft. Since its launch in October, 2006, the Bank on San Francisco program has set up checking accounts for an average of 10,000 people each year – a success that has prompted more than 100 cities across the United States to launch, or to plan on launching, their own Bank On program.
Kindergarten to College (K2C), another OFE program, has encouraged families to save for their children’s post-secondary education. Through the program, every child in San Francisco public schools is automatically given, upon enrollment in kindergarten, a College Savings Account (CSA) with a $50 deposit from the City and County of San Francisco, and an additional $50 if the child is a part of the National Student Lunch Program. Then, the program offers incentives, including additional savings matches and incentives provided by private and corporate philanthropy to encourage families to save earlier and more. Since 2011, more than 16,000 public kindergarten students have received CSA’s and more than 13% have started to save.
Involvement with the Center
Through the Social Sector Solutions, the SF OFE seeks to design an incentive program to increase savings participation to 25% of all K2C account holders. Using qualitative and quantitative research, the S3 team has been looking into which variables best explain school participation as well as interviewing parents and school influencers about the program.
“In the last few weeks, [my team members and I] have already learned so much from one another and continue to be surprised with the “superpowers” that each of our team members brings to the table, from language skills to local connections to quantitative skills to organization and facilitation skills,” team lead Megan Wong said.
In order to get a better understanding of the program, the team was invited to participate in outreach sessions in which the kindergarten students were taught the importance of saving for college.
“There was a parent who explained that she joined K2C because she saw that her daughter, who had come home from a lesson by one of our outreach coordinators, had started depositing her coins in a piggy bank,” Carol Lei, program manager for K2C, said. “Her child was already saving for college, and the parent decided that so should she.”