What We Learned After Rolling Out Financial Capability Services for Underserved Youth

Editor’s note: In partnership with the Citi Foundation, Prosperity Now launched a community of practice including five national youth workforce development organizations as part of the Citi Foundation’s Youth Financial Capability Fund (YFCF) in July 2017. The YFCF is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative, which supports organizations that help empower urban youth, ages 16 to 24, and connect them to opportunities that prepare them to compete in a 21st century economy. In this blog post, Amanda Nathan of STRIVE International shares her thoughts on the organization’s yearlong integration journey.

While preparing our youth program participants to be workforce-ready, our staff at STRIVE saw that many regarded being “ready for work” as having soft skills and industry training. Beyond having requisite job skills, we wanted youth to be prepared to answer the question: “What will I do with my first paycheck?”

This is where the importance of financial capability comes in. While job skills help you acquire a steady stream of income, financial capability makes you better at investing that income towards future prosperity.

Given that our youth often have the same financial pressures as adults and must provide for themselves and their households, financial capability is a skill they need. So we decided to integrate financial capability education into our Future Leaders program, which was designed to increase employment and education opportunities for STRIVE participants ages 24 and under, specifically justice-involved youth living in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

Future Leaders was ideal for integrating financial capability because while participants gain workforce essentials like a positive attitude, time management and resume preparation skills, they would be equally encouraged to develop financial skills.

Here’s how we did it, and what we learned:

Selecting Financial Capability Services

STRIVE benefitted from the training and technical assistance of Prosperity Now to understand the financial needs and behaviors of youth we serve, which then informed what services would be offered across our pilot sites. 

Through surveys and focus groups, our youth participants shared challenges such as:

  • Not earning any or enough income to be self-sufficient (fear of being “broke”)
  • Being in debt due to accounts such as utility bills being opened in their name
  • Spending the bulk of income on clothes and food for their children and family members
  • Not understanding the ins and outs of credit

The direct feedback from program youth also revealed a lack of basic financial awareness and education that caused many to be unbanked or underbanked. This demonstrated to us the value financial capability education could have for them. 

For our participants to understand the possibility of financial prosperity, they had to first understand financial products and tools, and then gain the skills to effectively manage their finances. STRIVE concluded that 1) Financial education; 2) Financial coaching and counseling; 3) Credit coaching and counseling; 4) Access to safe and affordable financial products; and 5) Incentivized savings programs had the potential for the greatest impact on our youth.

Implementation Strategies

Assessing our program and staff helped us decide what we could execute on our own and where we could benefit from outside assistance. We chose to use a blended approach to deliver financial capability services, and relied on Do-It-Yourself (pilot site staff), partner and referral techniques. This implementation strategy was ideal because it leveraged existing staff roles and talents while building our internal capacity, keeping in mind the limitations of a DIY approach. It also allowed us to reach out to local community partners for services that required professional expertise, such as credit counseling, supplemental workshops and intensive individual sessions.

To deliver financial capability training, STRIVE used a FDIC Money Smart curriculum that blends a youth-friendly approach, case management tools and facilitation guides to support program staff. STRIVE also connected staff to financial coaching training opportunities so they felt comfortable having one-on-one conversations about financial goals with young people. In particular, our incentivized savings service (through EARN’s SaverLife matched savings program) has been instrumental in helping our youth change their behaviors towards saving money while moving towards financial goals.

Lessons Learned

We learned a couple of important lessons from our experience with financial capability integration:

Include site participation and feedback at every stage of the process. This includes planning, training and implementation. While it may be tempting as a national organization to take ownership of most project duties in an effort not to overburden site staff, individual site engagement in the work promotes their buy-in and eagerness to contribute to its success.

Invest in training for participating sites to quell anxieties around service provision while recognizing the personal need staff may have for financial capability awareness and education. This is especially true if staff are being assigned to perform financial education and coaching duties. Staff need to know that they are not required to be experts and that they will be supported in developing a working knowledge of these services.

This was apparent in our efforts to have participating sites’ case managers act as financial coaches for this project. STRIVE cross-trained staff in the foundations of financial empowerment using materials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Your Money, Your Goals platform. However, some sites needed more training, so they leveraged the expertise of project partners to help them increase the confidence of program staff in their service delivery and the impact on program participants.

The supplementary training also helped prepare site staff to conduct individual coaching sessions, extending their capacity to motivate participants towards financial goals. The experience shaped how STRIVE approaches this service as we consider training opportunities to best prepare pilot site staff, while encouraging them to utilize their relationships with providers for promising financial coaching practices.

Future Plans

STRIVE appreciates Citi Foundation’s support of the Youth Financial Capability Fund initiative. We are considering ways to improve how financial capability is embedded in the Future Leaders framework and how services can be enhanced through training direct-service staff and increasing participation of expert partners.

By the end of 2018, financial capability services will be expanded to become a part of the Future Leaders program in four additional cities. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this initiative and to have the resources and flexibility to craft our vision of financial capability services for youth in our Future Leaders program.

About Strive and the Future Leaders Program

For over 30 years, STRIVE has trained its program participants in skills employers need, helping create talent pipelines that promote our nation's prosperity. Continuing that tradition, STRIVE launched Future Leaders in 2015. Future Leaders was developed in collaboration with MDRC and the Youth Development Institute with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor, Future Leaders is currently being implemented at 10 STRIVE sites across the nation.

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