Many people joke about stashing their cash under the mattress, but what if that were really the only option? Bank on San Francisco, a public-private partnership formed by the city and several financial organizations, gives citizens access to bank accounts and financial education. When the pilot launched in September 2006, there were 50,000 unbanked households in the city. After two years, 25,000 of them had signed up for accounts. One reason many people hadn't had checking accounts is they lacked government-issued U.S. IDs. Under the Bank on San Francisco program, the 17 participating banks and credit unions must accept Mexican and Guatemalan IDs. The initiative allows participants a safe place to keep their money as well as an alternative to the check-cashing services that often take 5% or more of their net income each year. It also includes money-management training. Other cities across the country are copying the program, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in December to expand it statewide in California.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.