Connecticut Appleseed work to improve access to financial services for immigrants dates back to 2008 when Greenwich Associates (www.greenwich.com) conducted a pro bono survey (Link to:“2008 Banking Survey – Executive Summary”) of eight Connecticut banks to assess their awareness of and responsiveness to the financial needs of immigrant communities in the state. With financial support from Western Union, Citizens Bank, Citi and Webster Bank, we embarked on our “Expanding Financial Access for Immigrants” project, for which we surveyed roughly 600 immigrants from Stamford through New Haven (Financial Access – 2009 Immigrant Survey – Summary.doc) in early 2009.
We found that an estimated 19 percent of Connecticut households either have no checking or savings account, or use fringe financial services rather than their own dormant accounts. These residents need help avoiding predatory and other high-cost financial services so that they can
save, build the credit histories needed to access credit, and accumulate assets. But before these population groups will be integrated into Connecticut’s mainstream financial system, our state’s banks similarly need to learn how to improve their outreach and expand the products and
services that they offer to those who are unbanked or underbanked.
As a result, Connecticut Appleseed spearheaded a collaboration of financial institutions, community partners, and state and federal banking regulators that began in 2011 to connect unbanked and underbanked state residents with mainstream financial services – including
affordable checking, savings, and credit opportunities.
In 2010 Connecticut Appleseed began partnering with the Connecticut Association of Human Services (CAHS) to launch a Bank On Connecticut (link) initiative that will help people keep more of what they earn and start on a pathway to improved financial success and self-sufficiency.
That partnership was the natural evolution of Connecticut Appleseed’s 2009 “Expanding Financial Access for Immigrants” project (Financial Access – 2009 Immigrant Survey – Summary.doc). Importantly, it also capitalized upon CAHS’ Connecticut Money School (www.ctmoney.org) network of financial education classes and programs, as well as the statewide relationships that CAHS has developed in coordinating the “VITA” tax preparation assistance program.
Outreach by nonprofit partners is critical in helping the unbanked to overcome their wariness of mainstream financial institutions. Participating nonprofit community organizations therefore partnered with financial institutions in 5 pilot tests that progressed gradually from financial education coursework for the unbanked individuals toward long-term and multi-faceted banking relationships. As of mid-2012, the pilots teamed CTE and Citi in Stamford, NEON and Citi in Norwalk, Family Services Woodfield with Citi and Chase Bank in Bridgeport, Start Bank and
Junta for Progressive Action in New Haven and Webster Bank and Team, Inc. in Derby.
In each pilot, a participating nonprofit refered, educated, screened and supported clients entering the Bank On Connecticut program. Each nonprofit was also the referral source for new accounts into the bank branch of a collaborating financial institution, each of which attempted to offer competitive products with transparent fees to the “Bank On” customer. Banks worked with the customer at the point of sale to ensure that questions about the basic checking or savings account