Jose Cisneros, City and County of San Francisco

The spotlight shines on Treasurer José Cisneros of the City and County of San Francisco

Q. What is the Office of Financial Empowerment?

A. The San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) is focused on building and strengthening innovative pathways to financial success for all San Franciscans. I launched the OFE about eight years ago to help lower-income residents enter the financial mainstream, build assets, and plan for a financially stable future. To support our vision of financial empowerment for every San Franciscan, we have created several first-of-their-kind programs to help individuals and families access low-cost checking and savings accounts; receive financial education and counseling; save money for college and other goals; find alternatives to payday loans; develop positive financial practices in the workplace; and more.

Much of the work we do is about creating opportunity for individuals and families. Whether it's through education, access to safe and affordable financial products, protection from predatory financial practices, or other asset-building strategies, we believe that financial inclusion and financial empowerment provides people with the opportunity to build prosperous lives for themselves and their families.

Q. Why is access to affordable broadband at home so critical to becoming financially savvy?

A. I am a huge proponent of efforts to increase affordable broadband access, especially for low-income households. In many ways the digital divide in this country mirrors the financial divide that has left so many Americans stuck outside of the financial mainstream and dependent on high-cost and often predatory fringe financial services. Universal and affordable broadband access is a wealth-building tool with the power to improve economic prospects for those in San Francisco and throughout this state. Unfortunately, even as many of us take high-speed internet access for granted, far too many Californians are still left out.

Today, the internet is a primary means of engaging with your bank or credit union and to access savings tools and financial education resources - to say nothing of job opportunities, government services, and other crucial supports for families and individuals. My Office of Financial Empowerment is engaging partners in the private and nonprofit sector to identify and develop new and innovative financial products and technology that can help support wealth-building and financial education. It is increasingly evident that these emerging tools cannot work for the people we serve unless they have broadband access at home, and understand how to use the internet.

The digital divide in California is solvable, but the solutions require strong leadership and support. I think there is an important role for local government in developing these solutions, and I applaud the work of CETF and Valley Vision in these efforts.

Q. Tell us about San Francisco's 100% paperless payday initiative?

A. One of our newest initiatives is CurrenC SF, an initiative that provides a framework to build financial stability for working families, expanding financial access and capability in the workplace. CurrenC SF helps to bring working households into the financial mainstream through direct deposit and electronic payroll, reducing reliance on high-cost check cashing services by the nearly 70% of lower-income working San Franciscans that get paid by paper paycheck. The cost of check cashing services costs workers an average of $700 - and often more than $1,000 - each year. This is money that should be available for basic needs like rent, utilities, food, and clothing, and we knew we had to do something about this problem.

CurrenC SF gives employers everything they need to increase participation in direct deposit and electronic pay for their employees, including an employer toolkit, online tools, access to low-cost bank accounts and high-quality prepaid payroll cards, and technical assistance. More than 120 employers are participating in CurrenC SF, and we urge more businesses to join us by visiting our website: www.currencsf.org. Paying employees electronically is cheaper, safer, cleaner, more convenient and more reliable, and our long-term goal is to make San Francisco the first city in the country with a 100% paperless payday.

It is vitally important to protect the earnings of workers by helping them access their pay safely and conveniently through direct deposit. Cash and checks are becoming obsolete, and those that rely on them exclusively are being shut out from an increasing array of services and protections. This is an extension of the digital divide - a trend that is becoming an increasing issue for working poor families in the United States.