The consulting firm Promontory Financial Group has established an awards program to spotlight efforts by small financial firms to serve the underbanked.

The Empowerment Awards will recognize creative projects that help people in lower-income communities gain access to financial services, the firm said in a press release this week. Community financial development institutions and finance and technology firms with under $10 billion in assets are invited to compete.

The goal of the awards is to "create a base of knowledge and spread it," according to Promontory Chief Executive Eugene Ludwig.

"Financial services, used correctly, can give low- and moderate-income people an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty," Ludwig says. "By focusing attention on the most innovative activities by banks and nonbanks, as well as smaller institutions like CDFIs, [the awards] will help low- and moderate-income people and help the financial industry get the recognition it deserves."

Promontory plans to offer awards in two categories. CDFIs will compete in the "community development banking" category, which offers a $100,000 grant to help the winner expand its winning project. Financial and technology firms will contend in the "access" category for the chance to win $100,000 on behalf of charity organizations. Both awards include five free consultations with Promontory officials on strategic and regulatory issues.

The awards winners will be announced in late 2014.