On the Rise Financial Center: Bringing Financial Inclusion to Atlanta’s Westside

We are improving financial wellbeing for Atlanta’s Westside communities by providing access to safe and affordable products and services.

Photo of Michelle Parker
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Eligibility

  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States

Where are you making a difference?

Georgia: Atlanta (Vine City - 30314), (English Avenue - 30314 and 30318), (AU Center - 30314), (Ashview Heights - 30314 and 30310)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

04/01/2017

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

http://www.ontherisefc.org/

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/On-the-Rise-Financial-Center-1543980372279337/

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

On the Rise Financial Center was developed in response to the real financial service needs of Westside residents. Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods are among the lowest income segments of the City with up to 44% of adults living below the poverty line.

Four years ago, a coalition of government, philanthropic, nonprofit, and corporate organizations came together to reinvest into Atlanta’s Westside. Through meetings with residents and an in-depth needs assessment, they recognized there was limited access to affordable banking and credit products in these communities. In 2015, local partners approached us about ways to expand financial inclusion. Less than two years later, we launched On the Rise Financial Center in April 2017.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Together with local community development credit unions (CDCUs), we are bringing integrated financial counseling and financial services to Atlanta’s historic Westside communities. Access to affordable financial services is a critical challenge for these predominantly African American communities with an average credit score of 500, limited ability to earn living wages, and only two mainstream banks operating on the outskirts of the neighborhood.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

On the Rise Financial Center provides tailored, quality financial education and one-on-one financial counseling paired with credit union products in order to improve residents’ financial well-being. Our model is focused on making measurable change in people’s financial lives through our services. We work with residents to establish and improve credit, decrease high cost debt, build savings, and access affordable financial products and services.

As a dedicated participant in the Westside on the Rise efforts, the Center has also grown, strengthened, and expanded local partnerships to incorporate our financial empowerment services into Westside Works, the primary workforce development entity for Westside residents, healthcare providers, and youth empowerment associations.

Further, by partnering with local agencies that offer homebuyer assistance and build affordable housing units, the Center is also offering a clear path to homeownership for a growing pipeline of legacy resident purchasers. Our objective is met by educating partners and their clients about the Center’s services, and creating referral channels through which residents can receive individual support.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

From its inception in April 2017, the Center has been meeting individuals where they are to deliver financial products and services that positively turn their lives around. A great example is Ebay, a local resident and professional driver, who discovered the Center after its grand opening. Later that spring, Ebay returned to sign up for a financial education class followed by personalized financial counseling. Eventually, he was able to open a Credit Builder Loan from a local partner credit union, which he has since repaid every month in full and on time. Through his dedication, Ebay increased his credit score by 139 points and is now looking forward to a strong financial future with greater access to asset-building product

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Access to affordable financial services is a critical challenge in Atlanta’s Westside. According to Equifax and the NY Federal Reserve’s Community Credit analysis, 40% of individuals in Fulton County have have subprime credit and the average credit score in the Westside is 500. At the Center, residents can not only open credit union accounts, but also receive personalized financial counseling to overcome their financial challenges and reach their financial goals.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • geography
  • work status
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Though many organizations offer financial education classes, On the Rise Financial Center is distinctive in its focus on delivery of one-on-one financial coaching and through its leveraging of the Pathways to Financial Empowerment model to focus on advancing individuals’ financial wellbeing and to track those outcomes over time. Further, our partnership with four local credit unions enables us to offer Westside residents unprecedented access and choice of banking services and affordable credit products. Together, we are advancing financial education, counseling, and financial access.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Since opening our doors last year, the Center has graduated over 170 adult students at Westside Works and delivered financial counseling to over 80 individuals from our community. To date, fifteen families are now banked members of a local credit union with the initial minimum balance paid by the Center. In addition to new our counseling clients, we also celebrated 3 business loan referrals made to our microenterprise lending partners. As we’ve increased our capacity this year and developed new partnerships, we expect this reach to grow by at least 25% next year.

The demand for homeownership is strong with over 70 legacy residents attending two information sessions that the Center held this year. Additionally, 28 attendees enrolled in pre-purchasing financial counseling to move them toward their goal of homeownership.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are moving the needle on financial inclusion by integrating financial education and coaching into workforce development programs. In 2017, we started to put this strategy into action by delivering financial classes with Westside Works. Adult students now receive comprehensive financial education courses include budgeting, financial readiness, understanding credit and pay check withholdings. As a result, a growing number of Westside Works classroom graduates are transitioning to personalized one-on-one coaching and are opening new financial accounts.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Center is a key financial capability component of broader private and public investment currently taking place in the Westside. The Federation is grateful for the support of its key partner funders at Equifax, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, and Invest Atlanta. As dedicated partners in the Center’s success, these funders, with deep roots and commitment to Atlanta’s Westside, have enabled the Center’s launch, development, and plan to grow additional sources of support.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

We have built a growing, diverse staff to support the financial needs of Atlanta’s Westside. Our team draws from a wide range of experience in financial empowerment within distressed communities. With the onboarding of the new Regional Director (Anna Foote), our Program Manager (Regina Grant) now working full-time, and the planned hire of the Center Associate, we will have greater ability to regularly review our activity and adjust our strategies as needed.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 33.3%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 66.7%

Clarity of Writing - 66.7%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 66.7%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 66.7%

Partnerships - 66.7%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 66.7%

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Attachments (4)

WCRC Strategic Plan Summary.pdf

As outlined in the Westside Community Retention Collaboration (WCRC) Plan, the Center is working with local partners to develop recommendations and strategies that prevent displacement throughout the neighborhoods of Atlanta University Center, Ashview Heights, English Avenue and Vine City.

Bank On Image.png

The Center is actively working with Bank On Atlanta to ensure that products and services meet the needs of Westside residents. Bank On coalitions are locally-led partnerships that work together to help improve the financial stability of unbanked and underbanked individuals across the country.

Tired of Renting.png

Through our Homebuyer Readiness program, we offer financial education services to individuals who seek to complete the home-buying process. Topics that we cover include, but are not limited to, building personal credit scores, developing budgets and savings plans, and preparing to apply and close on a mortgage.

Westside on the Rise Economic Inclusion Plan.pdf

As a dedicated participant in the Westside Economic Inclusion Collaborative (WEIC), the Center serves as the leading provider of financial services in Atlanta's Westside. Our local partnerships include workforce development, healthcare providers, and youth empowerment associations.

4 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Christopher Linder

Really love the collaboration and partnerships and your approach is very data driven and based on needs identified quantitatively. Beyond grants, have you thought about how to help pay for your services? Would love to learn more about the Pathways to Financial Empowerment model.

Photo of Michelle Parker

Christopher Linder Thanks for the positive feedback! Currently, our program doesn't have the volume to support a fee-based service, but in the future we may reach critical mass to sustain a revolving loan fund that covers more staff time. Definitely good food for thought.

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