Making the Most of Information Systems for Children’s Savings Programs

To guide Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs in their decision to choose or improve their information systems, Prosperity Now recently released a new paper titled Zen and the Art of Information Management: The Current State and Future Evolution of Information Management Systems for Children’s Savings Accounts. To supplement the paper’s findings, we hosted a webinar that included a rich conversation with the co-authors, Carl Rist and Erin Thiemann,  with practitioners from two of the country’s leading CSA programs: Boston Saves, managed by the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development; along with Brilliant Baby and Kindergarten to College, managed by Oakland Promise.

Information systems are a critical piece of CSA program infrastructure that serve as the link between program information and the financial institution. As the paper’s co-authors note, CSA programs use information systems to serve two primary functions:

  • Administrative or “back office”: Hosting confidential participant data, opening and managing savings/investment accounts, tracking account activity and program participation
  • User interface: Allowing participants (and their families) to view balances, complete financial education, or receive communication from the program

With significant improvements in technology and best practices, CSA programs and information systems have come a long way in the last decade. Yet there’s still no perfect information system provider that meets 100% of program needs. In this improving but imperfect climate, CSA programs make decisions about their information system based on program priorities, program availability, and affordability. 

For instance, Oakland Promise’s Chris Hwang detailed the information systems her team uses, which includes My529, SalesForce, and Tableaux. Through these providers, Oakland Promise manages a range of data, including participation in family financial coaching, investment growth in Brilliant Baby, and school-based participation in Kindergarten to College. 

Boston Saves’ Gosia Tomaszewska outlined the journey of the Mayor’s Office’s information system from an initial pilot with InvestCloud to the system they are currently building with VistaShare’s Outcome Tracker. Gosia highlighted the importance of family-centered design as the driving force in all program decisions.  This philosophy of “families first” allowed the program to test potential solutions and receive critical feedback to make sure that the system works for end users: families themselves. 

As the CSA field continues to develop new tools for managing programs, both Oakland Promise and Boston Saves underscore the importance of centering on families’ needs and rigorous testing of systems. Input from CSA program participants and lessons from program staff will continue to drive the development of information systems—both at the individual program and field levels. 

For more information about information systems, be sure to check out Zen and the Art of Information Management, and stay tuned for future conversations on this topic.

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