Banking the Unbanked: A Mechanism for Improving the Financial Security of Low-Income Individuals

  • Emily Robbins
Keywords: low-cost banking, unbanked, financial security, low-income individuals, financial literacy, public-private partnership


Expanding access to financial literacy and to low‑cost banking services are important policy issues that may help prevent some of the financial pitfalls that disproportionately affect low‑income individuals. This paper explains the causes and effects of being “unbanked” (i.e. not using the traditional banking system), and explains why it is important to bring everyone into the financial mainstream. In addition, this paper highlights the structure and implementation of a successful public-private partnership program called Bank On San Francisco that provided financial literacy courses and low-cost checking accounts to at-risk residents in San Francisco. Lastly, this paper discusses several important economic considerations for policymakers to analyze before replicating the Bank On San Francisco program in other jurisdictions, and also reviews federal action on financial literacy and banking the unbanked.

Author Biography

Emily Robbins
Emily Robbins is a Masters of Public Policy student focusing on urban policy issues at The George Washington University. She previously worked for the Boston City Council on economic development, housing, and education policies and developed an urban policy platform for a Boston mayoral candidate. Currently, she manages partnership development for The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development.