Many civil society organizations are strategically located to facilitate financial literacy among residents of low-income neighbourhoods that banks and credit unions typically underserve. Working in partnership with these institutions, civil society organizations can provide the "situated learning" in personal finance that enjoys far better participation and generates way better results than any classroom ever will.
The research project "Financial Exclusion and Poverty in Canada" tracked the experiences of four community banking projects: Cash & Save (Toronto's Parkdale and Regent Park neighbourhoods), the Community Financial Services Centre (Winnipeg's North End), Pigeon Park Savings (Vancouver's Downtown Eastside), and the Desjardins Mutual Assistance Fund (Montréal and other cities in Québec). All these inner-city neighbourhoods experience higher rates of unemployment, poor housing, mental illness, and racism than others do.
Both the Desjardins Mutual Assistance Fund and the Community Financial Services Centre offer full banking services that involve clients working with a financial counsellor. These clients can make use of a full set of transactional and development financial services, as well as work on credit and savings plans and on budgeting. These two projects are more likely than Pigeon Park Savings and the Cash & Save to foster greater financial literacy. Note however that financial inclusion must go beyond community banking projects such as these. Large, mainstream financial institutions must integrate in their practices the lessons learned by these small-scale,