IDNYC: A Financial Lifeline for Many on the Margins

Nearly three months into 2016, there has been a renewed effort to get New Yorkers who are still without IDNYC to apply for one. There are already over 700,000 New Yorkers that are card-carrying members of IDNYC, and hundreds of thousands of City residents are expected to apply before the end of this year. While IDNYC has had a major impact on the City, it can be even more of a game-changer - if all of our city's financial institutions can only recognize the tremendous potential it has to put all New Yorkers on sound financial footing.

IDNYC has clearly changed peoples' lives for the better. It has allowed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to access a myriad set of benefits, such as the ability to use the card as a primary form of identification to enter municipal buildings and schools; free membership packages to 40 cultural institutions in the City; the ability to sign leases; show official government identification to the police; and open bank accounts.

The opportunity to open a bank account is a particularly important feature of IDNYC. Before IDNYC, many students, senior citizens, immigrants, transgender individuals, and low-income families could not afford the fees or were ineligible to obtain a state-issued license, and were forced to live in the margins of financial security. For far too long, most of these people were forced to live cashed paycheck to cashed paycheck, and many were forced to rely on high-interest check-cashing firms where much of their hard-earned money was lost. Worse, they fell prey to predatory lenders and loan sharks that can cost these families up to $1,500 per year.

For these New Yorkers, the potential of IDNYC to help them open bank accounts is a game-changer - accounts can help these residents grow protected savings, open access to loans and credit cards, and create a chance to build a financially stable future. Having this legal form of identification allows New Yorkers to leave behind the predatory check cashing services, and provides them with the opportunity to start building toward a better future by keeping their hard earned money in a safe space where it can grow.

Not only does IDNYC help New Yorkers protect their hard-earned savings and salaries with confidence, it can also be a critical vehicle to help banking institutions establish new relationships and reach new markets of hundreds of thousands of emerging clients. IDNYC is a verified, official city-issued form of identification that the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Office of the Comptroller of Currency have affirmed can be used to verify a customer's identity. While banks understandably have strict security protocols, Amalgamated Bank's experience with IDNYC has been instructive and positive. Thanks to IDNYC, our customer base has expanded and we are able to help provide financial security to more New Yorkers. In short, accepting IDNYC was a good business decision for us.

Amalgamated Bank was proudly one of the first to agree to accept the ID, and it has helped boost consumer confidence in us as a banking institution - but we cannot make change if we are the only ones. Without widespread adoption, hundreds of thousands of people from New York's communities who simply want to deposit their paychecks, may instead get confused as to their options. This confusion may ultimately keep these residents - who contribute much to New York's economy - in the shadows, and out of the financial mainstream. Simply put, everyone needs to pitch in - as an industry, we need to work together to protect the paychecks of the underbanked.

IDNYC has helped tremendously - but banks accepting IDNYC can help even more. Providing New York's vast immigrant populations with legitimate IDs opens the door to endless opportunity, which in turn can help drive our city's economy even further. Together, we can help realize the full potential of immigrant New Yorkers. By helping the marginalized, we enhance the quality of life for all in this great city.

Keith Mestrich is President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. Steve Choi is Executive Director of The New York Immigration Coalition.