City Treasurer Kurt A. Summers, Jr. has hit the ground running during his first week in office.
A graduate of Whitney Young High School, Summers received his MBA from Harvard and took time to visit the Crusader on Dec. 2. Summers replaces Stephanie Neely, who resigned and accepted a vice president position with Allstate.
Most recently, Summers served as senior vice-president at GCM Grosvenor, and before taking his first position in public service with Cook County, he was managing director at Ryan Specialty Group, a specialty insurance services firm.
During his visit, he explained his job as City Treasurer involves three phases: investor, banker and advocate and revealed a 90-day plan he has put into place of which he will be evaluating its effectiveness on a regular basis.
In Summers’ role as a banker, about $7 billion annually is invested on behalf of workers and retirees in pension funds, and the office deposits the capital with banks around the city and lends monies. As an advocate, Summers explained, the office advocates for financial empowerment.
“We will focus on financial empowerment for youth, but it is also about empowering working families, adults, businesses, and retirees as well,” Summers said. “I’m advocating for investing in Chicago. That’s the slogan of my campaign: ‘Investing in Our Chicago.’”
Summers said 15 percent of the $7 billion can be invested into municipal bonds, but none of that says it has to go into Chicago. He believes that concept is part of a disconnect and the message that is being sent to other investment entities. An example of the impact of not having that investment means the city cannot finance a new park or expand infrastructure.
“As an investor, we have to look at investing in our own city,” Summers said.
He believes informing the community about what his office does is important because most people do not really know how important of a job it is. The Treasurer is responsible for all of the money in the city’s coffers, and citizens have a right to know how their money is being spent and invested.
While Summers acknowledged that his office cannot tell banks what to do with their money, he believes he has to be an advocate for small businesses in the city; businesses that in many cases cannot even get a loan.
Next week, he is meeting with all of the banks who have municipal depository business, which is taxpayer money. Summers said these banks may not be lending to communities in Chicago, and he cannot confirm that because regular reporting on lending has not been received by the city since 2010. Summers said he will ask for those reports during his meeting with the banks.
“I’m going to ask to see where they are lending and where they are giving,” he said.
Currently touring 77 communities in 77 days, Summers stated that during one of his recent visits to the Austin community, a resident asked him to find out what properties the banks own or have foreclosed on in the community. He said the information he receives back from the banks will be used in part to determine where he deposits city monies.
“Some of it is going to be based on their ability to collateralize; their ability to do it at the lowest fee possible or generate some income for us. But, part of it is going to be where they are investing…we’re going to perform a quarterly reporting process where we release information to the community in terms of how we are doing and how they are doing,” Summers said. “We can tell them the criteria in which they will be judged upon, and if they want to continue to do business with the city, what we will be expecting from them.”
Summers said one of the goals of his office will also be to touch every child in Chicago in a way that gives them impactful financial information. He has already started discussions with all of the major thought leaders in the city and CPS administrators to come up with a plan for financial curriculum. He believes if they want to impact the city’s kids, it will require a team effort from a lot of entities. He said CPS has been working on a three-year plan, but have not convened with other sources like, Junior Achievement of Chicago, Facing History and Ourselves to help implement their plan. Summers believes he can be a conduit for all of the entities to come together.
“Our next meeting of all the groups is this week, and we are going to meet every other week until we have a plan in place with real financial information for Chicago’s children that they can use,” Summers said. “Rather than having entities invest in a specific school…if we work on the curriculum for financial education with the same amount of money and resources, you can impact hundreds of thousands of children versus the hundreds of children in a particular school.”
Summers said what he expects is that many of the students will then be able to take the information home to their parents and teach them as well. He believes that getting people to believe in the CPS system will be a key to the success.