Building an Inclusive Financial System, One City at a Time – an Interview with Citi’s Bob Annibale
Thursday, December 3, 2015
I recently had a chance to speak with Bob Annibale, global director of Citi Community Development. Annibale’s work for Citi touches on everything from microfinancing to neighborhood revitalization. We discussed partnering with mayors, helping the unbanked, immigrant integration and more.
What is financial inclusion to you, and how have you worked within Citi to advance your goals?
We can describe most of our work as being focused on building more inclusive cities, working alongside municipal, community and nonprofit partners to enable progress along three main themes: access, affordability and resiliency.
We’re a global bank that invests in cities, one that is broadly engaged in the wider debate about urban investment and growth. But we can’t have successful growth if cities become unaffordable, if the high-level growth we’re seeing results in the goal of owning a home or starting a small business in cities becoming a challenge for the majority.
That’s why we’re working to make sure households have access to fair, affordable, appropriate financial services. It’s why we want to ensure that people have healthy financial lives and are able to withstand unexpected financial shocks or setbacks — that households and neighborhoods are prepared and resilient in the face of events beyond our control. It’s why that for the sixth consecutive year, Citi was named the country’s leading affordable housing lender.
We need to look at the idea of fair and open access to more services and ensure that growth is as broad as it can be in a city. It’s about ensuring that opportunity is there.
What can cities do to promote inclusion?
We’ve worked with a number of mayors, and we’re very focused on how we partner with not just community organizations but also municipalities. For example last year we worked with the City of New York to expand access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a lump-sum refundable tax credit that returns an average of $2,500 per household. We have a significant number of families who are eligible for but are not receiving the EITC — and in NYC, only 3 percent of those who do claim it use one of the free volunteer income tax assistance sites around the city, instead paying hundreds of dollars to file their taxes.
One of the things NYC wanted to do was expand the number of volunteer income tax assistant sites in the city, and increase the number of filers getting free tax return preparation by 50 percent. We worked with the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs on the largest ever EITC outreach and education effort; the campaign successfully raised this number from 96,000 to 150,000 people, which meant the city could return $250 million in savings and refunds to low-income New York families. That’s one of the things we do with cities.
In 2014, Citi along with the mayors of L.A., Chicago and New York launched“Cities for Citizenship,” a national campaign to enable eligible permanent residents across the country to attain the economic benefits of citizenship — and as of today, about 18 cities have joined. We looked at immigration in the U.S. and saw 9 million permanent residents eligible for citizenship, but they haven’t done it. Over a third of New Yorkers are foreign born — that equals the whole population of Chicago. We’re talking about a very significant part of our urban fabric at every level. This was about joining with mayors and organizations focused on immigrant integration in order to maximize the success of those communities.
Many of our programs, like Cities for Citizenship, and Kindergarten to College in San Francisco — the first publicly funded universal children’s savings account program — are about partnering with the city itself.