Unbanked Can Bank On San Francisco CUs

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More than a dozen local credit unions and banks are asking the thousands of unbanked residents of this Bay City to Bank on San Francisco.

Modeled after Manhattan's "Bank on New York" program, the local depositories are working with the city's Treasurer and the Federal Reserve of San Francisco to develop and market a variety of programs aimed at signing up the city's estimated 50,000 unbanked residents to deposit accounts and to create special services for them.

"This is a new area for this office. Getting into areas like financial justice has not been tackled before by the Treasurer's office," said David Augustine, a spokesman for San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros, who developed the program.

Among the issues being looked at are making it easier for immigrants to open deposit accounts, providing incentives to opening insured deposit accounts, and offering alternatives to high-cost check-cashers and payday lenders.

The group, for instance, is trying to ensure that credit unions and banks accept so-called Matricula cards, identification cards issued by the Mexican embassy, to allow Mexicans to open accounts. "Sometimes those in the executive suites say they will accept Matricula cards but the word doesn't always filter down," said Augustine. "Credit unions have been a little bit better than banks, on this."

The group is also working to provide no-cost accounts for the unbanked to deposit federal refunds from the Earned Income Tax Credits, as well as the city's own Working Families Credit program that provides a 10% match for the EITC.

"We're looking forward to promoting the products those institutions will have shortly," said Augustine.

The program was formed last fall by Treasurer Jose Cisneros and is currently being formalized for an official roll-out in the first quarter. In developing the concept, Cisneros worked with New York City officials who have enrolled more than 80 financial institutions, including 25 credit unions, in their 'Bank on New York' program aimed at reaching an estimated 500,000 unbanked New Yorkers.

Advertising giant McCann Erickson Worldwide has agreed to provide advertising and marketing assistance and to develop a branding campaign on a pro bono basis.

Among the participants so far are: Patelco CU, California Preferred CU, Northeast Community FCU and Spectrum FCU, as well as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, Bank of the West and County Bank of San Francisco.

The program, according to Augustine, will also provide an opportunity for the credit unions and banks to work cooperatively, something that has not always been possible. "We're pleased to have this coalition together, especially a coalition that hasn't always been able to work together," he said.

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