The field of public banking is rapidly evolving and increasingly significant.

We partner with leaders and policy innovators across the United States who are exploring the potential of municipal public banking to help cities take bold steps towards addressing banking inequities and associated challenges like racial wealth gaps, poverty, and disparities in local economic development. Public banking can be a powerful tool in a city’s toolkit to provide much-needed alternatives to our current financial system, maximize municipal autonomy, and free up capital for local investment priorities. We see potential in public banking and are excited to help cities overcome the challenges of creating their public banks.

Featured Projects

Supporting the Creation of a San Francisco Public Bank

San Francisco, CA

HR&A Advisors is supporting the City and County of San Francisco in its vision to establish California’s first municipal public bank to strengthen local prosperity and economic equity. HR&A is assisting San Francisco’s Reinvestment Working Group in preparing business and governance plans to establish non-depository and depository lending institutions to increase affordable housing production and access to finance for disadvantaged entrepreneurs. We are conducting stakeholder outreach and education to gain insight and feedback from a wide range of potential users to assess market demand and implementation and released preliminary findings in October 2022. Then, we will develop public bank business and governance plans with iterative input from the RWG and local communities. The plans will establish the bank’s structure, mission and vision, products, users and beneficiaries, capitalization, governance, and management, and will also include financial analysis for long-term operations and sustainability.

Supporting SEIU State Public Banking Legislation, CA

California

The California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the California Public Banking Alliance coalition of dozens of civic groups sponsored the landmark the California Public Banking Option Act (Assembly Bill 1177) to establish a public banking option to give all Californians access to high-quality, low-cost financial services. HR&A supported SEIU’s advocacy for AB 1177 through the first analysis of its kind, which examined who is not being served by the formal banking system, where they live, what the financial costs are to individuals and to the economy of un- and under-banking, and the economic benefits of the legislation to California. Our two reports — the “Atlas of Banking Access,” which details the causes of financial exclusion and its financial costs, and “Creating Universal Access to Bank Accounts,” which describes the viable model behind the program and its widespread economic benefits — informed legislators, advocates, and the public about the value of AB 1177. HR&A also conducted a live legislative briefing and supported SEIU’s communications for the bill. The California Assembly and Senate passed AB 1177 and the Governor signed this historic legislation into law in October 2021, paving the way towards establishing the CalAccounts public banking option program.

Study on the Nexus of Public Banking, Shared Ownership, and Municipalism

Multiple locations

Activists and organizations around the world have called for new ownership models that deconcentrate and reassign economic power, often with the goals of proactively extending capital and employment to those who have been excluded, divesting from exploitative economic arrangements, and erasing the distinctions between “shareholder” and “stakeholder.” Public banking has emerged as an interesting but relatively unproven means of advancing these goals. Excited by the power of finding alignment between these movements, HR&A is currently supporting a philanthropic foundation with its economic justice program strategy by exploring how leaders of municipalist movements in the US and UK might use public banks to advance the values and impact of shared ownership—such as by using public banks to extend capital to cooperatives and credit unions.

Public Bank Feasibility Study

Philadelphia, PA

With one of the highest poverty rates, as well as the highest rate of un- and underbanked residents among major U.S. cities, Philadelphia’s City Council was eager to explore new methodologies that would help them enact bold change for residents. They asked HR&A to conduct an independent landmark study investigating a Public Bank as a potential solution. We analyzed the local context driving the bank’s purpose, evaluated the financial, legal, and administrative feasibility of establishing and operating the bank, measured the scale of potential impact, and developed a roadmap to guide the City towards implementation. In March 2022, the Philadelphia City Council voted to establish the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, the country’s first institution which will lend capital to small businesses and address the historic racial disparities in commercial banking. Learn More →

Feasibility Study for a Municipal Bank

Seattle, WA

The City of Seattle asked HR&A to conduct a feasibility study to inform their explorations into creating a municipally-operated bank as an alternative to their financial services contract with a private bank. We investigated the universe of potential funding and governance structures for the bank, associated trade-offs in terms of risk and benefit, and created a strategy for pitching the selected alternative to the public and enabling bodies. We also collaborated with Pacifica Law Group, who answered questions of legal risk and feasibility. With a deeper understanding of their banking options, The City asked us to create a public study recommending next steps for implementation and proposing alternative models to achieve the City’s social and financial goals. Learn More →