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Asset Building Program

About this Program


Social development, economic security, and general welfare are not determined at a particular moment in time; rather, they unfold over time. This means we need to complement policies aimed at alleviating immediate hardship with ones that create meaningful opportunities for families to move forward in their lives. Yet public policy often fails to provide sufficient pathways for households with low incomes and few resources to accumulate the savings and assets necessary to support the social and economic development of children, families, and communities.

The power of assets is not just that they can be deployed productively or tapped to weather unexpected events, but they have behavioral effects that can change the manner in which people think about and plan for the future. The mission of the Asset Building Program is to significantly broaden access to economic resources through increased savings and asset ownership, thereby providing families with enhanced economic security, a direct stake in the commonwealth, and the means to pursue their aspirations.


The Program incubates promising policy proposals and serves as a leading voice on innovative public policies to enable low- and middle-income families in the U.S. and around the world to accumulate savings, access wealth-building financial services, develop financial capability, and build and protect productive assets across the life course. We aim to provide context and meaning to the assets perspective and ensure that this perspective is strategically and constructively inserted into a wide array of social policy discussions. Through informed analysis, expert commentary, innovative policy development, and promotion of an elevated public discussion, we advance solutions in a bipartisan fashion, based on effective ideas, policies, and programs, not politics. Among the signature ideas the program has developed include universal children’s savings accounts, AutoSave—a unique model that automatically diverts payroll into flexible savings accounts, and The Saver’s Bonus which provides a targeted incentive to contributed to savings products at tax time.


The Program is home to some of the world’s leading policy experts on children’s savings accounts in developed and developing countries. As such, it is widely credited with forging ideologically broad coalitions in both the House and the Senate to introduce the ASPIRE Act, and other bold policies that would establish and progressively fund a system of universal children’s savings accounts. These proposals would foster a savings and ownership culture, financial capability, and economic opportunity—especially for children in families with lower income and few resources.


In 2005, the Program supported the launch of the Congressional Savings and Ownership Caucus in the U.S. Congress. The bipartisan Caucus brings together key Members of Congress, their staff, and leading experts to discuss research findings, policy options, and legislative opportunities to advance inclusive asset building policies in the U.S.


In 2006, the Program began a special focus to provide national leadership on policy issues related to the role of the financial services industry in building savings and assets among low- and middle-income individuals. The work is focused on forging a new responsibility framework for consumer financial services in the 21st century; improving the effectiveness of financial education; expanding access to wealth-building financial services; and enabling low- and middle-income Americans to better manage debt in order to build assets.


In 2006, the Program launched the Global Assets Project with the Center for Social Development at Washington University to advance products, program and public policies that build savings and assets for poor, low- and moderate-income individuals around the world.  Serving as a bridge across the diverse yet increasingly integrated areas of microfinance, financial education, social policy, and commercial financial services, the Global Assets Project aims to chart a new agenda for innovations and frontiers in the field of savings and asset building, globally.   


The California office, established in 2004, is widely credited with advancing a set of promising asset building policies for the state. In 2007, we launched the bipartisan Asset Policy Forum designed to educate policymakers, legislative staff, and advocates on asset-building issues affecting Californians.


The Program maintains an active new media presence, including through its dynamic blog, The Ladder, which provides a forum for commentary, analysis, and public dialogue on a host of related asset-building and social policy topics.

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