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The Asset Building Network Convenes to Discuss the Best and Most Effective ways to Improve Financial Well-being

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By: Talia Landerman, Neighborhood Allies Economic Opportunity Intern

The Asset Building Network celebrated its 10th quarterly meeting with the highest attendance record to date and exciting cross-sector discussion concerning the best and most effective ways to help improve the financial health of those struggling to get ahead.

Attendees listen as Vanessa Buffry, Neighborhood Allies Consultant and Graduate Student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, shares about a Financial Counseling Training Opportunity.

Nearly 50 participants from local social service agencies, academic and financial institutions, government agencies and regional entities, convened at the February 14th Asset Building Network (ABN) meeting to share thoughts on banking and social service integration.

In Pittsburgh, 41% of households cannot make ends meet if their income is disrupted for three months. When faced with job loss or illness, they would need to choose between food, housing, and other necessities. The Asset Building Network aims to increase the connectivity, exposure, and effectiveness of local program and policy initiatives that are focused on wealth- and asset-building so that Pittsburghers can truly be financially well.

A representative from Advantage Credit Counseling shares her excitement for the launch of Financial Empowerment Centers in early March.

At this quarter’s meeting, the network was introduced to multiple opportunities to participate in upcoming financial empowerment initiatives. Those opportunities include, the launch of the Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs), the America Saves Week campaign led by our partner Fund My Future, and the chance to be part of a Financial Counseling Training Cohort. In addition, four local banks, including Dollar Bank, First Commonwealth Bank, KeyBank, and S&T Bank, discussed their accessible checking and savings accounts that fit the National Account Standards (NAS) as designed by Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) and supported by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

The National Account Standards ensure that consumers have access to user-friendly, transparent, and robust accounts that guarantee low-cost, low-fee basic transaction capabilities with no overdraft fees.  While the number of banks offering such products has been steadily increasing, the ABN’s goal is to connect residents to these accounts so that they can begin to grow their savings, improve their overall credit, and develop the ability to realize their dreams.

Using a consensus building exercise, participants were able to narrow their focus to three target populations that could most benefit from increased financial resources in Pittsburgh.

Through a facilitated exercise, the ABN participants considered the needs of Pittsburgh residents as they relate to increased access to financial institutions and advice, which could both alleviate wealth disparities and welcome Pittsburghers into the financial mainstream. In order to increase the effectiveness of the discussion, the group narrowed their focus to the financial and social needs of three specific target populations: 1) workforce development participants, 2) public housing residents, and 3) students.

Collectively, the network recognizes the immense challenges which arise when working to address this need.  According to the participants at the meeting, one of the foremost challenges in connecting these populations to financial resources is the lack of trust in financial systems and institutions, causing an unwillingness to become banked, grow savings, and develop credit. Education about financial institutions was seen as a major opportunity. If communities can become educated on the financial resources available to them, ways in which they can benefit from financial systems, and how to go about creating a life of financial stability and well-being for themselves, perhaps the barrier of mistrust can be overcome. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Asset Building Network to continue its work.

Developing a banking relationship and setting a financial trajectory could be entirely new concepts for some Pittsburghers. However, for social service providers, financial institutions, and government agencies, there is a chance to begin instilling the values of saving and planning, as well as addressing existing financial needs, such as debt relief or credit reparation, in communities struggling with financial instability. The fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge on what it means to exist in the financial mainstream are opportunities for us to take a step forward, starting with collaborative efforts to work with existing programs and initiatives designed to serve these populations, and integrate the concept of banking as a path to self-sufficiency and stability.


About Neighborhood Allies Asset Building Network

Neighborhood Allies’ Asset Building Network is a collaborative community for learning, advocacy, and cross-sector problem-solving that strengthens all of our efforts to increase economic opportunity for struggling Pittsburghers. For more information, contact sarah@neighborhoodallies.org.

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