Creating access for consumers: Filene Research Institute

Finding affordable financial options
Creating access for consumers: Filene Research Institute
George Hofheimer

With fifty-seven percent of the population financially fragile and 24.8 million households underbanked, many families turn to high-cost alternative financial products like payday lending. Filene Research Institute is looking to change that. The independent think tank was founded in 1989 by such organizations as CUNA Mutal Group, the American Association of Credit Union Leagues and Credit Union National Association. “The problem we’re trying to solve is lack of access to safe, affordable and beneficial financial products for everyday consumers,” says George Hofheimer, chief knowledge officer with Filene.

The institute has an incubator of five financial products being tested by forty-two credit unions across the U.S. One is an employer-sponsored small dollar loan–a short-term, low-cost loan through an employer. Filene works with social service agencies like the United Way to identify employers who are ideal for this program, such as those in retail and light manufacturing. A credit union provides the money for the loan and Filene finds out if the program is effective. “Our entire portfolio impacts nearly 10,000 consumers and counts $105 million in loans and savings. Once this round of testing is complete in April 2016, Filene will replicate the incubator with five more innovative products,” says Hofheimer.

What is social innovation?

According to Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review, social innovation is a “novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions” and benefits primarily society as a whole rather than private individuals.

It includes these elements:

Increasing employment, productivity and economic growth

Justice, fairness, environmental preservation, improved health, arts and culture and better education

A social innovation:

Can be a product, production process or technology (much like innovation in general), but it can also be a principle, an idea, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or some combination of them.

Recognizes the fundamental role of cross-sector dynamics: exchanging ideas and values, shifting roles and relationships and blending public, philanthropic and private resources. Innovation blossoms where the sectors converge.

Can’t be understood, let alone solved, without involving the nonprofit, public and private sectors.

The M List
Madison Magazine‘s M List is a who’s who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its third year, the M List recognizes those making strides in the area of social innovation. Last year’s list of innovators were in the food industry. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored “Foodtastic” entrepreneurs and innovators.

Click here to return to the 2015 M List.