The Current State and Future Evolution of Information Management Systems for CSAs

As we note in Investing in Dreams, Prosperity Now’s comprehensive guide to designing Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs, having an effective information system is critical for managing a CSA program. Regardless of program design, each program must have a reliable and user-friendly system to track account activity, manage incentives and report account balances to participants.

While working with communities on their CSA programs, our Children’s Savings team is frequently asked: what kind of account management system should we have in place and what kind of management information system (MIS) options are available to CSA programs?

To learn more about the landscape of CSA information systems, Prosperity Now and San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) hosted the CSA Information Systems Summit in San Francisco in March 2018. At the summit, experienced practitioners engaged with representatives from financial institutions and financial technology firms that partner with (or were interested in supporting) CSA programs. The summit offered an opportunity to do the following:

  • Explore the primary information system needs of the CSA field and the CSA information systems that are currently available
  • Discuss how information systems integrate with account products and the extent to which systems and account providers are meeting (or could meet) the essential needs of CSA programs

After the summit, the Children’s Savings team continued the conversation with individual practitioners, current information system providers, and firms interested in this space. The resulting conversations about information management, as well as the CSA program survey showing how programs currently manage their data, led to Zen and the Art of Information Management: The Current State and Future Evolution of Information Management Systems for Children’s Savings Accounts.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the paper:

A Range of Management Information Systems Are Used Across the CSA Field

CSA practitioners use a variety of MIS to manage their CSA programs. These include everything from Excel spreadsheets, to software platforms that were designed generally for matched savings programs, to custom-built platforms designed by financial industry firms that serve their products. Four systems are outlined in the paper that offer unique features to their CSA program partners: Outcome Tracker (VistaShare), My529, InvestCloud and Citi Start Saving Platform.

Practitioners Are Looking for Additional Functionality in Their Systems

Based on an informal survey of summit participants that we conducted prior to the event, most respondents (72%) said that their current information system integrates well or moderately well with their current account program. However, respondents noted a range of functions that could enhance their MIS: 

  • Automated transfers of incentives upon completion of “milestones” by participants
  • Linking accounts from multiple financial institutions to one MIS platform
  • Increased ability to communicate with end-users, including mobile-friendly interfaces, push notifications or automated email messages
  • Online customer interface available in the multitude of languages their families speak
  • Dashboards for school administrators, financial institution partners and other users

Customization Across the CSA Field Benefits Participants, but a Lack of Standardization Makes Designing an Information System That Works for All Programs Challenging

One of the exciting trends in the CSA field is that the growing scale of CSAs—now more than 457,000 accounts across the U.S.—means that more communities are implementing CSAs at the municipal and state levels. Yet, as we learned at the summit, the lack of standardization across CSA programs presents a challenge for technology providers interested in designing appropriate products.

This paper is just one way that Prosperity Now is contributing to the growth of a more robust CSA marketplace, given that securing an appropriate, low-cost, user-friendly account platform continues to be one of the key barriers to starting a CSA program. Going forward, Prosperity Now plans to continue the conversation about information systems with practitioners and hopes to facilitate connections between potential partners in this space and CSA programs. 

To learn more about information systems and some exciting partnerships between programs and technology providers, please join us on June 4 for a webinar on this topic.

Keep up with the latest information on our work in Children’s Savings and the field at large by joining the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

Erin Thiemann