Chicago City Treasurer is Pushing Financial Service Firms to Become More Inclusive of Minorities in the Windy City - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

Chicago is open for business to diverse financial services firms.

City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin unequivocally communicated that message as she recently launched the Inaugural Broker Dealer Diversity & Corporate Social Responsibility Symposium. Held in the 150-year-old Chicago Club in the Loop district, the event was designed as a “think-tank session on how the financial services industry could be more inclusive of minorities, women and veterans.”

More than 150 influential business leaders in the Windy City’s financial community attended the symposium, such as senior officials from banking giants like Fifth Third Bank and Northern Trust to representatives of top black-owned financial services firms. This included Loop Capital Markets L.L.C., which raked in a whopping $499 billion in taxable securities in 2018 and ranked No. 1 on BLACK ENTERPRISE’s BE INVESTMENT BANKS list, and Ariel Investments L.L.C., which ranked No. 1 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $8 billion in tax-exempt securities.

Conyears-Ervin, the only city elected official to sit on four public pension boards—the Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefits Fund; Policemen’s Annuity and Benefits Fund; Firemen’s Annuity and Benefits Fund; and Laborer’s Annuity and Benefits Fund—shared her plans to provide greater access to contracts for diverse financial services firms.

“My office is strongly encouraging all these pension funds to expand how they vet new and existing potential asset managers. We are asking them to examine what type of diversity and inclusion initiatives they have, as well as the percentage of minority and women representation they employ,” she says. “We are going to ask pension funds doing business with the city to vet their consultants as well. This area also needs to be diverse and inclusive.”

News reports have revealed that while Illinois pensions have increased procurement with women- and minority-owned money managers over the past 15 years since the General Assembly has served as a watchdog over such assignments, state policymakers have maintained that more must be done to diversify this area. According to a Crain’s Chicago report, City of Chicago pension funds are required to provide extensive information to the Illinois Special Committee on Pension Investments related to the ethnicity and gender of staff members as well as money managers they contract to invest pension dollars for teachers, firemen, and thousands of other state and municipal workers. As such, the objective is ensuring that pension funds are accountable for such hiring and publicly revealing performance as a means of advancing more diverse choices.

To achieve that end, Conyears-Ervin, a former state legislator focused on D&I, will be a much-valued voice.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin

Melissa Conyears-Ervin (Courtesy of the Chicago Treasurer’s Office)

Investing In Chicago’s Underserved Communities

The treasurer has also maintained that she will stress that public pension funds “look at how they can impact and invest in local communities in Chicago, particularly the underserved South and West sides.”

She envisions major financial services firms playing a larger role in community development as well. As part of the program, Conyears-Ervin and Nicole Johnson-Scales, senior vice president of Community Development for Fifth Third Bank, participated in a fireside chat on making corporate social responsibility more intentional and expansive.

“This is about Chicago leading the way in inspiring the financial industry to be more inclusive of women and minorities,” Conyears-Ervin told attendees. “This dialogue we are having right here, today, will make a difference in underserved neighborhoods. I tell my staff often, ‘Shame on us if all we do is make money and not change lives in the city of Chicago.’”

Johnson-Scales agreed with the treasurer’s assertion, maintaining that “being involved and inclusive matters when it comes to banking and community involvement.”

The Diversity, Inclusion and Community Outreach panel included Kourtney Gibson, president of Loop Capital, Martin Cabrera of Cabrera Capital Markets, and Keith Solomon, managing director and deputy head of municipal products for RBC Capital Markets, to discuss a range of high-impact strategies.

Chicago City Treasurer

Broker Dealer Diversity & Corporate Social Responsibility Symposium (Courtesy of the Chicago Treasurer’s Office)

An Agenda Driven By Creating Access To Opportunities

The symposium served to further Conyears-Ervin’s wide-ranging agenda. When the former state representative won the position to oversee the city’s bank accounts and investments by a landslide in a last April’s runoff, the 43-year-old Democrat declared that she was “extremely eager to begin enacting change that will allow residents throughout the city to enjoy and contribute to Chicago’s growing prosperity, regardless of their zip code. It is time working families and small-business owners in all neighborhoods have equal financial opportunities.”

Conyears-Ervin’s goals include increasing the number of eligible minority, women, and veteran-owned broker/dealers doing business with the city and enlisting partners to launch a citywide financial literacy program for primary school students. This month, her office is sponsoring a no-cost Women’s Small Business Expo complete with workshops and a vendor fair.