Bank On San Francisco connects consumers with checking, savings accounts

Consumer Action and our partners provided details on the Bank On San Francisco program in the last quarters of 2017.
Published: Monday, January 08, 2018

When people don’t have accounts at banks or credit unions, they’re vulnerable to financial threats like check-cashing services that saddle them with sky-high service fees and predatory lenders that trap them in high-interest payday loans. And because they keep their money in cash, a loss, theft or disaster could devastate them financially.

In 2005, officials in San Francisco looked into the number of local households living without a checking or savings account and discovered that approximately 50,000 households were “unbanked.” In response, it opened the Bank On San Francisco program in 2006.

During the last two quarters of 2017, Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott and two of our network partners, Mercy Housing and Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative (along with their clients and other San Francisco stakeholders), have provided input on marketing materials for the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment’s Bank On program.

"It is important for community-based organizations such as Mercy Housing and the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative to provide input and engage their clients in the Bank On San Francisco program and marketing design process because their clients are ultimately going to be the end users of the products and services,” Perrott said. “By considering consumer input early on, the Office of Financial Empowerment ensures that information presented to unbanked and underbanked consumers is culturally relevant, user-friendly and meets their needs."

Since Bank On San Francisco launched in 2006, more than 75,000 San Franciscans have opened safe and affordable bank accounts and entered the financial mainstream. The Office of Financial Empowerment staff is preparing to re-launch the campaign.

Perrott caught up with Jade Moy, a program manager at the financial empowerment office, to ask some questions about the successful program.

Have you always engaged community stakeholders in your program design and marketing strategy?

Yes! We work closely with the community partners that make up our Bank On SF coalition to make sure that Bank On San Francisco meets the needs of their clients and their communities. Since the launch of the program, the Office of Financial Empowerment has held regular meetings with non-profit, government and private sector organizations to review and discuss banking products and services, as well as Bank On’s goals and values. These stakeholder meetings are always valuable, and we look forward to re-engaging our partners and expanding our coalition.

When will Bank On San Francisco re-launch with its new outreach materials?

Bank On San Francisco is re-launching in 2018, with new and improved tools for consumers and service providers, an updated website, more partnerships to help connect people with the accounts they need, and financial products that are even safer and more affordable for San Franciscans.

When we re-launch, we’ll issue a press release and post on our social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter).

How can counselors, coaches and advocates get their clients involved in the Bank On SF program?

We will have resources for them to use in guiding clients to accounts that work for them, and we are working on ways to better engage direct service providers, especially financial coaches and counselors. This may take the form of direct trainings, webinars and downloadable guides. In the meantime, service providers and advocates who want to get involved can email Jacob Dumez.

What are some key features of Bank On San Francisco bank accounts that distinguish them from other bank accounts?

Bank On San Francisco bank accounts are transactional (checking) accounts that meet the needs of unbanked and underbanked consumers. With these accounts:

  • Everyone is welcome. You can open a Bank On account even if you don’t have a U.S. ID or have had problems banking in the past.
  • Safety is a priority. There are no overdraft or non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees. Overdraft and NSF fees are expensive and can trap consumers in a cycle of debt. Bank On accounts are typically “checkless checking” accounts that leave you in control of your money, with no hidden fees.
  • Affordability is a guarantee. Minimum opening deposits are $25 or less (as low as zero) and monthly maintenance fees are less than $10 and can typically be waived entirely (for example by setting up direct deposit).
  • Ease of use is built in. Free bill pay, online and mobile banking, and banking alerts are all available. We also offer free and unrestricted in-network ATMs, and customer support is always free (including live phone representatives!).

What are the new national safe bank account standards?

Building on the criteria established by Bank On San Francisco, and inspired by the 2012 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Model Safe Accounts Template, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund created new Bank On National Account Standards. The national standards’ core features include low-cost, low-fee basic transaction capabilities with no overdraft fees. More information can be found at the Bank On website.

How can counselors, coaches and advocates learn about one of the other 100 Bank On programs in the country?

They can visit the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund website for more info about Bank On nationally.

Is there technical assistance available to municipalities that do not have a Bank On program, but are interested in starting one?

Yes. The CFE Fund will provide information to municipalities that wish to start a Bank On program. The CFE Fund has created a Bank On playbook to support Bank On replication efforts nationally, and also supports some grants and fellowships for those launching local programs. And we’re always happy to talk!

What are some best practices that you have observed during your re-launch process that counselors, coaches and advocates can replicate in other parts of the country?

It was important to hear from many different voices: consumers, non-profits, banks and credit unions, and local, state and national government agencies. This feedback loop won’t stop with the re-launch. Its success has provided a clear lesson: Stay connected with the communities you serve and the partners who can help you make your program a success! The emerging role of the CFE Fund in supporting the expansion of Bank On nationally is a huge help, and we are also grateful for the support of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in our financial inclusion and innovation work—its biannual survey of unbanked and underbanked households is a fantastic data resource for any city or county.

The role of non-profits and community leaders is vital to making Bank On a success. We believe that local government plays a crucial role in bringing diverse parties to the table and sustaining the program over the long term.

During the re-launch planning process, community partners have provided invaluable feedback on the branding, tagline and images for collateral materials. We are continuing to work on finalizing our posters, brochure and flyers based on that input.

Is there anything else that you want to tell counselors, coaches and advocates?

Stay tuned for the next generation of Bank On! We will need your help to make sure that our clients and residents are aware of and understand their safe and affordable banking options and how taking advantage of the services will get their families on the right track financially.

Editorial note: Consumer Action is a Smart Money Network partner of the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment. Our staff took part in the Bank On San Francisco re-launch process through the Smart Money Network.

To learn more about the Office of Financial Empowerment, visit




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