Based out of San Francisco with California locations in Oakland, Santa Clara, and multiple other states, Juma Ventures is a national social enterprise serving at-risk youth that provides employment opportunities in sports and entertainment venues. Juma strives to break the cycle of poverty by paving the way to work, education, and financial capability for youth across America. They believe that the world’s greatest social service is a job. A Juma job socially engages youth and teaches them leadership skills while building confidence for a successful career, working as a launching pad to the real world. Juma’s model combines employment, financial education and savings, and professional skills coaching.
REDF talked with David Miller, Juma’s Savings Program Manager, to explore Juma’s financial wellness program.
Can you give us a description of your financial literacy program, both the curriculum and the structure? How you actually distribute this information to the CUC you work with?
Juma operates in a number of cities, and in each of those different sites we work with local financial institutions and non-profit partners to provide financial literacy training to all of our employees. We have two populations who we employ: opportunity youth, who are part of our six month quicker program focused more on workforce then on employment, and college bound youth, who are part of the two year program oriented towards getting them into college and enabling them to pursue higher education. For both of these groups, we provide financial literacy training based off of the Jumpstart standards. Jumpstart is a national coalition organization and has developed a really good set of standards that we use as base of all of our curricula. Youth are required to complete four hours of financial literacy training on topics such as saving and spending, credit and debt, and financial decision making. We offer every training twice, so there’s flexibility in case someone isn’t able to attend one of the trainings, they are able to take a follow up session. In addition to in-person workshops, we also have a license for Everfi, an online financial literacy based on the Jumpstart standards. There are nine hours of training available on Everfi for those youth who are not able to attend an in-person workshop.
We also work to offer workshops that are specific to certain cities that we work in. For example, our staff in Atlanta noticed that a lot of our youth had issues with poor credit stemming from parents or relatives using their information to set up accounts, negatively affecting their credit. So we worked with a local partner to teach an identity theft workshop that helped our youth identify when there has been identity theft and how to fix their accounts.
We know that talking about a topic once doesn’t allow enough time to let the information sink in and that individuals really need time to apply what they’re learning in these workshops. How do you reinforce these topics and messages into your program?
One important thing is incorporating the importance of financial literacy and financial capabilities into the ethos of your organization – it is certainly something that is part of Juma’s DNA and part of our model. In addition to helping our employees secure their first job and getting other helpful resources and connections, we really want to make sure that we’re taking full advantage of this moment – that first paycheck – and making sure that they know how to use it as best as possible. We’ve found that one of the best ways is to require all of our youth to set a financial goal at orientation. This goal could be putting aside money for savings, or decreasing debt, or increasing their credit score. Once the goal is established, their case manager keeps track of their progress towards it and helps them pursue options to help them move in the right direction.
In addition to the education you guys are providing with the ongoing coaching, what are the different financial products that you’re either providing as an organization or providing access to through your partnership?
Juma offers matched savings accounts to all of our employees, with a $25 incentive for opening a savings account, which helps with accounts that have a $5 initial deposit requirement. After six months, we match whatever they have saved in that account up to $50. We also recently partnered with a great organization called Earn which offers a Starter Savings Program that incentivizes savings through rewards. Through this program, participants receive cash rewards for meeting the savings goals that they established. This is in addition to the matched savings that Juma offers.
We also encourage our youth to sign up for direct deposit either into a checking or savings account. Previously, many of our youth were using check cashers which can be very expensive to use consistently. We wanted to make sure they knew there were other options. We found that pre-paid debit cards or payroll cards really fit the need here as well, allowing us to deposit their payroll onto a card that they can then use as a debit card and make withdrawals from without being charged. We were able to get pretty good terms because of our relationship with Citibank. That relationship has been really beneficial to getting access to products that might not otherwise be available. Prepaid debit cards are a very limited product, though, so we encourage our youth to open bank accounts so they can have access to the full benefits that come with account ownership. We also work with local banks and credit unions to try to inform our youth and give them opportunities to sign up. We invite people from those organizations to present to our youth and set up accounts as easily as possible.
For many social enterprise employees, this is either the first time they’re accessing traditional financial institutions or assistance or maybe they had a negative experience with these partners in the past. So while we have this goal of increasing financial capabilities for our employees we want to make sure that they don’t fall prey to predatory products. How does Juma prepare individuals to take advantage of these financial products and in a responsible way be aware of the different options they have to make sure they’re still increasing their financial capabilities?
It’s a really difficult issue and is something our staff are very concerned with. Ultimately, our job is to take care of these youth and set them up for success, and part of that responsibility means vetting everything that we might communicate to our youth. That’s something that energizes us when we’re doing our work because we really need to make sure that when we recommend a product we know it inside and out. We must know its benefits and its drawbacks, and be able to communicate those very clearly to our youth. In our financial literacy courses, they learn how to analyze different financial products and how to tell what a better deal is and what is a worse deal; how to identify what’s good and right for them.
There’s a difference with youth because people who are under 18 are not able to sign a legal contract the way that adults are and so some financial products that are offered to youths are really not necessarily as strong as those for people over 18. A lot of banks can only offer custodial accounts that their parents might have access to which is something that we recognize might not be okay for everyone. Not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and so having a custodial account might not be the right choice for some of our youth, even if it would be a great product otherwise.
So we really want to make sure that in all of our financial literacy training we’re identifying those risks and benefits and how they might identify what’s right for them. We’ll have side by side comparisons of costs associated with savings, checking accounts versus products that are offered by other institutions, and what that would mean for them. Ultimately I think really it just comes down to making sure that they have all the information available – not being overly negative or being overly flowery too.
What are some of the things you think other social enterprises should take into consideration when they’re framing this work to clients and these products?
In Lisa Servon’s book The Unbanking of America she makes the point that everyone makes their financial decisions for a reason and that there’s some basis for those reasons. I think a lot of times we look at what we view as the best possible decision and think anything other than that decision isn’t a great decision. For example, buying things in bulk may be a better financial decision for those who can afford it. But if you’re in a lower income situation you might not be able to buy things in bulk even if ideally you’d be able to. There are a lot of reasons for these decisions and it might not simply be because they don’t know better. And so it just requires a respect for your employees.
We see a lot of resistance among our youth and our clients towards financial institutions, that they don’t really trust them – often for valid reasons. They see things in media, they see these huge lawsuits and settlements when these banks or other financial institutions have taken advantage of minority communities or given them terms that are way less preferential than to white Americans or upper income Americans. They’re smart and they’re savvy and if we don’t honestly address these things and make sure we’re incorporating that sense of what we’re offering and doing and how we communicate they’re not going to be able to trust us, because we’re not communicating the full truth to them.
Having an honest ability to say that these are some of the risks will enable us to better encourage them towards financial behaviors that are ultimately beneficial to them. We can say that there are risks associated and there are potential costs that you need to recognize, but there are really large benefits too. We don’t want them completely lose out on what could be a great product or opportunity, because of skeptical positions, however valid they may be. So part of financial capability is confident and competent decision making, and that means understanding risks. We need to be able to communicate all of it in order for them to be able to make those really strong decisions for themselves.