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Express adv transparent.png

Our history

The National Council for Financial Opportunities was chartered two decades ago as Express Advantage, the nonprofit arm of a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in Seattle, Washington. Today it increases the life-changing impacts of CDFI's nationally.

The Journey

The impetus for the National Council for Financial Opportunities occurred in the mid-2000s when the Medina Foundation noticed a pattern in the clients served by its grantees. Unable to access reputable financial institutions, clients turned, in large numbers, to predatory and high-cost financial services such as payday lenders. Anecdotally, at least, it appeared that prevalent use of predatory lenders by an already vulnerable population effectively trapped people in a cycle of debt and poverty.

Medina set out to learn more. They conducted surveys of consumers and social service clients, as well as financial service providers. In 2006, The Brookings Institute shared its groundbreaking report, “The High Cost of Being Poor” which analyzed the dynamics behind the use of predatory, high-cost financial services. The report documented how this lack of access to traditional financial services effectively penalized already vulnerable people, serving, in effect, as a “poverty premium.”

Spurred on by the report, Medina undertook a systematic review of strategies employed by the financial services industry and by nonprofit organizations around the country aiming at serving the un/under-banked. From this research, it concluded that a new private market solution was necessary to fill the gap. It conceived of a client-centered nonprofit model of tailored education and financial services. Express Advantage was born.

In conjunction with its affiliated not-for-profit Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) services partner, Express Credit Union, Express Advantage enabled people to build the assets needed to stabilize households financially and to become more financially resilient.

Working initially in partnership with Medina Foundation’s financial asset building grantees, Express Advantage established and rapidly deployed its brand of high-touch asset building and financial education services for diverse populations throughout King County. By integrating its service delivery model into existing social services, Express Advantage was positioned to scale its services, and to meet its customers, literally and figuratively where they are.

As a result of the success of Express Advantage, it established partnerships with a network of CDFIs in Washington state. By 2016 there was national demand from not-for-profit credit unions and CDFIs to collaborate and test products and programs through the nonprofit. In 2017 Express Advantage was renamed the National Council for Financial Opportunities (NCFO). It works with CDFIs in 30 states. In 2020, the NCFO designed The Opportunity Initiative and along with Balance, one of the nation's oldest nonprofit counseling agencies, funded the public television series Opportunity Knock$. In 2021, the NCFO in partnership with Wave 2 launched the prototype of The Opportunity Finder. It continues to expand the reach of its work and is facilitating the Opportunity Initiative Outreach and Advisory Council comprised of the nations' leading agencies committed to financial empowerment, literacy, and economic mobility.

 

The National Council for Financial Opportunities works in tandem with CDFIs to provide targeted financial services to unbanked and under-banked looking to build a foundation of financial stability. It tests groundbreaking new products and programs to increase access to financial services and to increase economic mobility and shares best practices through its network of CDFIs and with the greater community development finance sector. The Opportunity Initiative pulls it all together. The vision is the largest coordinated economic mobility camapign in US history.