Prosperity Now: A DIY Approach to Building Financial Capability

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Prosperity Now: A DIY Approach to Building Financial Capability

By Ola Wadibia, July 19, 2018

Designing services to support young people’s financial wellbeing isn’t easy. As our partner workforce development organizations have learned firsthand, it takes significant time, capacity and community resources.

These organizations are part of the Youth Financial Capability Fund (YFCF), which was launched by Prosperity Now with the Citi Foundation‘s Pathways to Progress Initiative in July 2017. The initiative supports organizations that empower urban youth (ages 16-24) and prepare them for the 21st century economy.

As part of the YFCF, the five national organizations went through a planning and design process to embed financial capability services—including financial coaching, access to safe and affordable accounts, and savings opportunities—into their existing youth workforce programming. Local sites across seven states began piloting these services earlier this year.

Urban Alliance, one of our YFCF partners, engaged in this community of practice to advance its ongoing financial literacy work. The organization’s staff reflected on their work to date, and acquired new tools to improve their program.

“We provide our young people with the skills, knowledge, networks and experience needed to succeed in adulthood. Financial capability is an essential skill in today’s economy, and this grant will help us to better prepare our students for lifelong economic success,” said Eshauna Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Urban Alliance.

Urban Alliance is a prime example of how organizations can innovate their own methods of integrating financial capability into existing programs. Here are four strategies it adopted:

1. Let Youth Voices Inform the Change

To improve services for young people, it only makes sense to actively listen to their needs. That’s precisely what Urban Alliance did to integrate enhanced financial capability services into one of its hallmark programs, the High School Internship Program.

The program focuses on preparing high school seniors for economic self-sufficiency through year-long job and life skills training, paid internships and one-on-one mentoring from adult professionals. Through the program, young people can access paid internships, bank accounts and financial education workshops.

During the assessment phase of the YFCF last fall, Urban Alliance surveyed and interviewed its program participants in Baltimore and Chicago to gain deeper insight into young people’s financial lives. It learned that most participants use income from internships to support their families. Regarding borrowing and saving money, it found that many participants have not established credit, are reluctant to accrue debt and struggle to balance saving for the future with short-term financial priorities.

After hearing these responses, Urban Alliance staff realized they were only offering a basic introduction to financial topics. What their young clients needed was better preparation to navigate the complex, mainstream financial system.  

Urban Alliance’s next step was to incorporate the voices and experiences of youth participants into its financial capability work. It adopted an incentivized savings program, one-on-one financial coaching and interactive group financial education workshops to ensure youth feel more prepared as they graduate from the program. These services will help young people develop and pursue short- and long-term financial goals, establish a post-high school financial plan, track their income and expenses, save money and understand how to build credit.

2. Make the Most of Staff-Client Interaction

Once Urban Alliance decided what financial capability services to offer, it considered who would deliver them and when in the program cycle they would be most relevant to young people. During their interviews, staff learned that young people greatly valued and trusted them. Urban Alliance decided to leverage these relationships and provide services in-house, instead of through external partners.

Urban Alliance also created a Client Journey Map to reflect on its current program flow (learn how to create your own Client Journey Map). The map revealed the value of weaving in financial capability services throughout the academic year, when staff interact with young people on a weekly basis. From there, the Urban Alliance’s national curriculum team sequenced the financial education workshops to build on each other and correspond to key moments of the program cycle and the academic year.

For example, workshops on basic banking and financial goal setting are delivered before young people receive their first internship paycheck, while credit and debt workshops will be delivered in the spring before high school graduation. Beginning in April 2018, staff also lengthened their monthly check-ins with young people to provide one-on-one financial coaching. Moving forward, staff anticipate delivering financial coaching earlier in the program cycle.

To ensure high quality and consistent delivery of financial capability services, Urban Alliance’s national curriculum team invested in frontline staff in the following ways:

  • Staff were trained to use a new financial education curriculum that replaced hypothetical examples with activities and tools based on real-life examples.  
  • Staff participated in a virtual Your Money, Your Goals training to increase their knowledge and comfort in holding financial conversations.
  • National and regional staff flew to Madison, Wisconsin to participate in a two-day, A-4 Financial Coaching Foundations Workshop delivered by the Center for Financial Security. Through the workshop, they acquired coaching skills and increased their comfort and skill around having financial conversations with young people.

“Strong financial capability is a critical component of preparing young people for long-term economic self-sufficiency. Thanks to Prosperity Now, we have identified the best ways to grow and improve our training. Our expanded programming, combined with robust data collection and monitoring, helps ensure that we are delivering the highest-quality training possible to the youth we serve. This work is too important to leave any part of it to chance,” said Daniel Tsin, Chief Impact Officer of Urban Alliance.

3. Put Your Own Spin on It

Staff helped young people establish financial goals to work towards until the end of the program. To incentivize savings, staff offered young people an opportunity to win a laptop or cash prize based on their regular savings deposits. As the school year has ended, program participants are now working at their internships full-time and attending a weekly workshop to continue enhancing their budgeting skills and checking their credit reports. Upon program exit, young people will complete a survey that analyzes their progress, their financial confidence and their satisfaction with the program delivery.

Throughout this process, national and pilot site staff assessed how to add Urban Alliance’s own flavor to tools and services so that they resonated with young people. For example, Urban Alliance changed the language and format of the coaching templates to make them straightforward and easy to understand.

4. Evaluate Your Progress

Staff are excited about launching more financial capability workshops and putting their newly acquired financial coaching skills into practice this fall with a new cohort of young people. In the meantime, the national measurement and evaluation team has outlined program outcomes and targets that will inform staff of any needed adjustments for the fall. By adding financial capability outcomes to their program outcomes, Urban Alliance has ingrained the value of financial capability into its organizational DNA.   

While only two Urban Alliance regions piloted financial capability services during the YFCF, Urban Alliance plans to expand financial capability work to all its regions. Urban Alliance’s intentionality and ambition demonstrate that understanding the needs of your youth, investing in staff, adding your own flavor to the work and evaluation are critical to rolling out youth-centered financial capability services. Urban Alliance is an exemplary model for any organization looking to help clients achieve their financial goals.