It is probably of no surprise to readers of this blog that the financial lives of Americans are becoming increasingly more complex. In some ways, it is not that there are more decisions than before, but rather who is making them. Astounding changes in the economy and labor market have shifted to individuals making financial decisions that used to be at least curated by other institutions – like one’s employer. This has resulted in more responsibility placed on people to decide about their retirement, health insurance, life insurance, credit, savings, and cash management.
Financial challenges facing Americans are evolving in this disruptive new environment and there is a critical need to shine a light on the economic forces that undermine financial security.
That is why the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program has launched the Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC). EPIC is an unparalleled effort to illuminate consumer finance issues that have widespread, mainstream importance, but need a thoughtful, structured exploration process to accelerate their salience. Through EPIC, we have the ambitious, but achievable goals of 1) uniting diverse, multi-sector teams of experts to deeply analyze the current state of knowledge; 2) delivering a fresh, unconventional solutions framework that connects sectors and does not sit in one silo; 3) raising the profile of misunderstood and overlooked economic challenges; 4) putting a spotlight on thought leaders whose work can provide objective foundations of knowledge and understanding that policymakers now lack and 5) bringing the resulting insights and policy solutions to decision-makers.
What does this mean practically? Our experience in this field is that issues of savings and financial security are bipartisan and actual solutions that a wide variety of people can support do exist. But we need more structured methods to connect the evidence base, synthesize what we know, and translate that evidence into understandable, useful information. The more we can engage diverse sets of leaders in the discussion, connect their work and priorities, and build consensus-based solutions frameworks, the better chance we have of improving the financial opportunities for Americans. And EPIC can do this.
We are building EPIC because we believe by bringing experts and leaders together through this process we will elevate and unearth new data sources, liberate facts from ideology, and provide objective foundations of knowledge and understanding.
In our inaugural year, EPIC is focusing on the issue of income volatility. A remarkable group of leaders have committed their time and expertise as advisory group members, convening participants, and survey respondents to help us understand the dimensions of this complicated problem and build a comprehensive solutions framework. Since November, the EPIC process has already resulted in engaging a diverse group of labor economists, practitioners, job quality advocates, fintech entrepreneurs and innovators, researchers, government officials, financial service industry executives, policy thought leaders, journalists, and employers From these contributors, we have added new insights to the evidence base which has resulted in a more nuanced, accurate understanding of the causes and impact of income volatility. Now we hope to build on this consensus by designing a research and policy agenda that will allow innovators and policymakers to produce breakthrough solutions.
This is an exciting pilot year for a critical process that is needed in our field. The Financial Security Program works with the country’s best minds to create a new generation of policies, products, and services that will enable more Americans to meet basic financial needs now in order to find stability for longer-term saving for the future.
We will not solve these generational and intersectional challenges unless thinkers, practitioners, and researchers from a diverse array of fields and backgrounds come together to forge the path forward.
EPIC hopes to serve as the platform where these cross-cutting and evidence-based conversations will happen, and where the desperately needed solutions to the country’s financial problems will materialize.
EPIC’s work is supported by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the MetLife Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, as well as by the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program’s other core funders.