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Gametime! The Power of Cross-Sector Partnerships

By Joshua Sledge, Analyst, Innovation and Research, Center for Financial Services Innovation

It’s June 13th, 1997 in Chicago, Illinois.  Inside the United Center, the Chicago Bulls are battling the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the NBA finals.  Up three games to two, a win for the Bulls would give the team its third consecutive championship. With the score tied and only 28 seconds left in the game, the Bulls work the ball to NBA Legend Michael Jordan.  Jordan gets a step on his man, drives the lane, rises into the air…and passes the ball to Steve Kerr, an unremarkable bench player, who knocks down a wide-open 15-foot jump shot, giving the Bulls a two-point lead with five seconds to go.  The Jazz blow their final possession and the celebration begins as the Bulls are once again NBA champions.

I’m not a Bulls fan (Go Pistons!), but this sequence has always been one of my favorite moments in NBA history.  Why? Because it provides a perfect example of a team achieving success by playing to the specific strengths of its members.  By this point in his career, Jordan had established a reputation as perhaps the greatest “closer” in NBA history by making countless big shots in big moments.  When he headed toward the basket, the Jazz just knew he was taking the final shot…which is why the player guarding Kerr went to help defend him.  Now, on the flipside, Kerr was never regarded as an elite player but, man, could he shoot the lights out!  For him, that wide-open jump shot was as routine as they come.  On that final play, the Bulls relied on Jordan’s knack for late-game heroics and Kerr’s shooting range – their respective strengths – to bring another championship to Chicago.

Leveraging the respective strengths of different parties to achieve success - not only does it make a great NBA team, but it is also the underlying premise that makes cross-sector partnerships a powerful means of meeting the financial services needs of the underserved.  We at CFSI work with a variety of stakeholders – nonprofits, financial institutions, nonbank providers, and more – all of whom are working to better serve the unbanked and underbanked.  Just like Jordan and Kerr, each of these groups has certain strengths that can help them achieve their goal.  Nonprofits are often able to form deep and trusting relationships with their clients, enabling them to provide the type of ongoing support and advice that leads to asset-building and positive changes in financial behavior.  Financial institutions and nonbank providers have expertise and experience in offering the products underserved consumers need to take steps toward greater financial health.  Working together allows these organizations to play to their strengths while still providing holistic solutions that help the underserved use products successfully and create opportunities for increased financial prosperity.

The Kindergarten-to-College (K2C) program provides an excellent example of the power of cross-sector partnerships.  Under the program, children entering kindergarten in San Francisco Public Schools have a college savings account automatically opened for them, pre-funded with an initial $50 deposit.  The program was made possible by a collaboration of government agencies (San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment), nonprofit groups (EARN, CFED, the New America Foundation) and financial institutions (Citibank).  By working together, these parties have created a citywide program that will not only encourage San Francisco citizens to plan for college, but also gives them the savings account and ongoing support they need to do so.

So, how about you?  Have you considered how a cross-sector partnership could bolster your efforts to responsibly serve the unbanked and underbanked?  If not, give it some thought.  You never know, the Steve Kerr to your Michael Jordan may be out there, waiting for you to pass them the ball so that, together, you can be Compass Principles Champions.


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