Many of the low-income and economically vulnerable consumers we serve through the Office of Financial Empowerment face barriers to accessing affordable financial services. And for the many social service and financial-product providers that want to reach them, barriers to scalability – making proven solutions available to a significant number of people — and a lack of data to inform policy and practice can get in the way of building new pathways to financial security.
On November 28-29, more than 100 representatives from banks, credit unions, state and local government, community organizations, researchers, and product developers gathered with our team to explore opportunities to address these barriers at a national convening entitled “Empowering Low-Income and Economically Vulnerable Consumers: Making the Case through Access, Data, and Scale.” We also were joined by our fellow financial regulators and representatives from the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.
This was the first event of its kind for us, and it proved to be a great opportunity to gather information for the consumers we serve. The wide range of participants discussed strategies that are improving the financial lives of low-income consumers. Practitioners who work with consumers every day told us about the impact of giving people access to financial coaching and other services, as well as the challenges of taking innovative ideas to scale. Industry providers identified partnerships as key to serving both low-income consumers and offering financially sustainable products. Participants included representatives of organizations serving a variety of consumer groups, including people with disabilities, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, immigrants and others. They spoke of the need for data to inform policymakers as well as the organizations that provide services.
Our mission at the Bureau is to help make sure that the financial marketplace offers safe, affordable products and services to consumers, and that those consumers have access to information and tools that allow them to choose products and services that best fit their needs. In the Office of Financial Empowerment we take this mission seriously because we focus on consumers who are struggling financially and who may not easily be able to access the products and services they need.
Fulfilling this mission requires a range of expertise that comes from all sectors of the financial marketplace. Attendees heard from Director Richard Cordray, as well as representatives from the CFPB offices that deal with enforcement, supervision, fair lending, and consumer complaints – all of which are vital to our shared mission of financial empowerment.
In the coming months, our team will be developing strategies related to the themes that guided our convening. We want to identify approaches that can serve the tens of millions of consumers who try to make ends meet with low or limited income.
To achieve this, the financial empowerment field needs data to show that financial coaching, counseling, and other methods are effective in helping consumers manage their financial lives. At the same time, we need to understand and expand the ways in which low-income people can access responsible financial services.
We want to hear your experience on ways to provide effective, safe and affordable access to the financial services and products people need, whether that’s persons with disabilities entering the workforce for the first time, foster youth moving to independence or any other vulnerable group that could use some help. You can share your experience with us by telling your story.