Banking photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This article was adapted from our latest book, “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons.” Download your free pdf copy today.

Lacking access to a bank account greatly increases one’s vulnerability to a variety of financial threats, including check cashing services, predatory “payday” lenders, theft, or simply losing cash. A 2008 study by the Brookings Institute found that, across the U.S., “moderate- and lower-income households pay over $8 billion in fees to non-bank check-cashing and short-term loan providers to meet their basic financial services needs.”

In 2005, the city of San Francisco conducted a study and determined there were 50,000 households possessing neither a checking nor savings account. The study also found that people of color were disproportionately affected, with approximately 50 percent of African-American and Latino adults being “unbanked.” To address this issue, a coalition of city officials, local and national government agencies, banks and credit unions, and community organizations came together to create the first Bank On program in the U.S.

According to the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment, its primary objectives were to:

  • Change policies: Create more opportunities for lower-income clients to enter the financial mainstream.
  • Modify accounts: Create products without high fees or minimum balances.
  • Raise awareness: Help unbanked people learn about the benefits of keeping their money in checking and savings accounts.
  • Provide financial education: Help San Franciscans learn more about how to use, manage, and save money.

As reported on their website, the initiative has been a big success, with 10,000 new checking accounts being opened each year since the program began in 2006.

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Tom Llewellyn


Tom Llewellyn | |

Tom Llewellyn is the interim executive director for Shareable, a nonprofit news + action hub promoting people-powered solutions for the common good. As part of his role at Shareable,

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