City and Regional Planning

Posted February 24, 2020
  • Lisa Servon spoke at the Filene Research Institute event in Washington, DC

Lisa Servon to Direct Center of Excellence for Consumer Financial Lives in Transition

Lisa Servon, the Kevin and Erica Penn Presidential Professor and Chair of City and Regional Planning at the Weitzman School, has been named research fellow at the Madison, Wisconsin-based Filene Research Institute, where she’ll lead the new Center of Excellence for Consumer Financial Lives in Transition. The Center is a four-year research project focusing on strengthening credit unions’ capacity to adapt to consumers’ changing financial lives and livelihoods as they face new forms of economic struggle and financial fragility.

“People have a right to be financially healthy and the right to safe and quality financial services,” Servon said in Filene’s announcement about the Center. “This work will help credit unions serve people facing different kinds of transitions – income volatility, retirement, physical health and inequalities. If we can understand the frequency of these kinds of transitions and when people are going through them, we may be able to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been historically created.”

Servon will lead new research to: (1) study how individuals and families earn, save, spend, borrow, invest and give across their lifecycles; (2) prepare credit unions for an increasingly diverse consumer base characterized by heightened fragility; (3) build a playbook for credit unions to better serve consumers’ changing needs and expectations; (4) document trends in consumer financial services, including auto, mortgage, healthcare, and student lending, as well as savings and personal financial and wealth management; (5) identify new member groups through granular segmentation, such as households and communities of color, veterans and military families, incarcerated and recently incarcerated populations, students and multigenerational families, etc.; and (6) investigate the future of work and business services, from the independent workforce to new forms of small-business entrepreneurship.

The initiative was announced on February 24 at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington D.C., where Servon spoke at Filene’s annual Board Chair Breakfast. As the keynote speaker, she shared her past research and how it will inform her vision of the future and how it impacts credit unions, as well as her call to action for a more strategic approach to credit union earnings, growth and philanthropic donations.

“There is so much to learn about the forces shaping peoples’ lives, from the big transformations remaking our economy to planned and unplanned events across a single person’s lifecycle,” said Taylor C. Nelms, Senior Director of Research at Filene Research Institute. “Both kinds of transitions introduce a range of new financial and non-financial challenges. Credit unions play a vital role in meeting people’s diverse financial needs. With Dr. Servon’s leadership, we can think creatively on the credit union value proposition and think about what cooperative finance can do through and beyond isolated transactions.”

In 2016, Filene hosted a special listening session featuring Servon and her book, The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives.