Back to School: 11,000 Kids Start Saving For College

September 19, 2019
Jose Cisneros, Treasurer of the City
Lisa Deloney, Citi Retail Bank
Bob Annibale, Citi Pride Affinity Co-lead

"I would like to make a deposit to my college savings account," said Xavier Ochoa, a kindergartener at San Francisco's William Cobb Elementary School.

At Citi, our goal is always to improve the financial lives of our clients and customers. In San Francisco, some of our most enthusiastic new Retail Bank customers are 5 year olds. This September, roughly 11,000 public school students – including 5,000 kindergarteners – kicked off the new school year equipped with a powerful new tool for achieving future success: saving for their education.

In San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country, one in three children are born into families with little to no savings. For many of these kids, especially those from lower-income households, a college savings account could be their family's first exposure to mainstream financial services. In 2009, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom put forward his vision for a universal children's savings program, Citi stepped up to the challenge. We listened and worked closely with the City, teachers and parents to understand the needs and challenges of establishing a savings program where every child, even those whose parents may be unbanked or who are foster children, is included.

That's how – and why – Xavier and his peers are joining some 34,000 other students participating in Kindergarten to College (K2C), the nation's first universal youth savings account program. A K2C account containing an initial $50 incentive is opened for every child who enters the San Francisco public school system. Additional incentives are awarded over time for making more deposits or positive behaviors in school. In 2011, The San Francisco Treasurer's office developed K2C with support and assistance from Citi. Today, this innovative initiative is sponsored and administered by the City and County of San Francisco.

To get the ball rolling, Citi Inclusive Finance worked together with colleagues from Community Development, our Retail Bank and Transactions Services to build an innovative product that is sustainable, scalable, replicable and inclusive. We designed Citi Start Saving, a digital platform that City employees can easily administer, with easy online access in multiple languages for participating families and students.

The platform continues to grow and evolve. A new update deployed this spring provides five different automated channels for taking deposits through Citibank, and automatically processes and reconciles transactions and posts daily. Participants and their families can access information on the program and their accounts 24/7 from a desktop, smartphone or tablet using the newly-redesigned website.

Our San Francisco branches regularly see this program make a difference for local kids and their families. Their sense of excitement, engagement and achievement is contagious whenever kids drop into a branch to deposit money into their accounts. You can actually see them make the critical connection between the money they are saving and the realization of their dreams for the future. No matter the size of those deposits, these early experiences help children develop healthy financial habits and behaviors that have a lasting impact on their financial resilience, and at times of stress, sometimes their family's future.

The numbers demonstrate K2C's unique value. This year's 11,000 kids will be joining nearly 33,000 participating children who have saved more than $4 million towards their education since the program's launch. The accelerating success of Kindergarten to College in San Francisco, and its potential to be replicated in cities and communities across the country and around the world, makes one thing clear. When we give young people convenient, universal tools to help them build a more secure financial future for themselves and their families – which support their education – that's good for the families, good for the economy, good for our communities and good for our company.

To learn more, watch the recent segment on PBS Newshour.

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