In a national study of these worker centers just completed by one of the project principals, 140 organizations across 31 states, in over 80 cities, suburbs, and rural areas were identified. The worker centers involved in the project offer information and training for employment, legal assistance in labor and immigration matters, and advocacy with employers. Like the mutual aid societies, labor unions and settlement houses of the last century, worker centers are emerging as essential components of local immigrant communities. When it comes to delivering financial services, our view is that community-based organizations, if properly incentivized, have the potential to solve important market failures for low wage workers.

Our project has three stages: market research, pilot programs at eight sites, benchmarking and evaluation. The first stage, extensive consumer and vendor research, and the resulting structure of the pilot program is the subject of this paper. This paper begins with some history of the prepaid card industry and a discussion of the market potential of prepaid debit cards. We will then summarize the intensive market research on worker centers’ constituents financial practices and needs conducted by the Center for Community Change and Community Financial Resources in conjunction with eight local worker centers in Austin, Los Angeles (3-sites), Denver, Long Island, New Jersey and Chicago. Next the paper will provide an overview of the product/vendor research conducted by Community Financial Resources during the 4th quarter of 2005 through May of 2006.

CFR utilized data from the consumer research to prioritize consumer aspirations, product configuration requirements and pricing structures in its vendor due diligence. Through this process of comparing the data to current market offerings, CFR identified three areas that generate consumer adoption obstacles: pricing structures, product delivery strategies, and consumer education. Finally, we will outline the structure of the pilot product roll-out, that will be executed by 8 worker centers starting September, 2006, that is designed to address and overcome existing market obstacles.