Corporate finance leaders are increasingly stepping up to help their companies deliver on racial and economic justice commitments. Most are enthusiastic about doing it, I’ve found in regular conversations with treasurers and CFOs, but some hesitate at the threshold of moving a big chunk of money. Impact deposits and investments are a new, unanticipated part of their jobs, and they don’t have accepted models to follow.
That’s what this series is about. In this and future pieces, I’ll break down the anatomy of innovative corporate impact investments and extract insights that you can use in your organization.
First up: Comcast’s $10 million commitment to building capital in credit unions led by or serving people of color.
Treasury resources can significantly expand the reach and capabilities of community finance organizations.
The inspiration: Comcast has a history of investments in initiatives designed to address inequality — the company started working with minority deposit institutions (MDIs) many years ago in an effort to advance financial inclusion. In 2020, Comcast decided to increase its commitment to MDIs, which provide a financial lifeline to underserved, racially diverse communities. Treasury Executive Director Teresa Metzler and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Jason Armstrong spearheaded the initiative and graciously shared their thinking and insights with me.
The move: Comcast placed its $10 million investment through Inclusiv’s Racial Equity and Resilience Investment Fund. Inclusiv is a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) intermediary that provides capital, products and services to member community development credit unions (CDCUs) that serve more than 14 million low-income people in communities across the United States. Comcast took a leadership role as the fund’s first corporate investor.
Metzler came from the community finance world and was already aware of the financially strong, deep impact opportunity that CDCUs provide. She said Inclusiv was an ideal partner because of its long-standing track record, expertise with mission-driven credit unions, efforts to drive capital to minority-designated credit unions and credit enhancements in the form of loan guarantees from a well-capitalized funder (in this case, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).
The impact: When Metzler learned more about Inclusiv’s Racial Equity and Resilience Investment Fund, which deploys secondary capital to credit unions that serve communities of color, she saw it as a timely and innovative way to meet Comcast’s goal of making high-leverage social impact investments. Eben Sheaffer, Inclusiv’s CFO and CIO, explained that secondary capital allows community financial institutions to provide services that their deposit base alone would not support. Inclusiv expects its $20 million fund to leverage more than $200 million in lending to minority-owned businesses, homeowners and consumers to withstand the current economic crisis and build wealth.
1. Balance sheet leveraging is powerful. Inclusiv studied the CDCUs it invests in and found that capital was leveraged up to 60 times over five years. That translates to many more people getting access to financial products to build credit, start businesses and become homeowners because of Comcast’s capital investment.
According to Sheaffer, the leveraging works on two levels: It allows a community finance organization to increase its lending by orders of magnitude, and it supports a core part of the CDFI business model: developing capacity for the borrowers and communities they serve. "Leveraging the capital includes building markets and supporting potential borrowers to actually take on loans and use them effectively," he said.
2. Early buy-in from other corporate departments smooths the path. Educating internal stakeholders about the characteristics, safety and reach of social impact investments and legal planning are important preparatory steps.
Metzler and Armstrong advised considering balance sheet moves in light of other corporate initiatives residing under the broad umbrella of inclusivity. Discuss social impact investing goals with chief corporate development officers, CFOs, CEOs and other leaders to define parameters up front. It is likely there will be differing views and it is better to find consensus before starting a financial process.
Metzler also flagged the importance of getting the legal department involved early, noting that documentation of these investments takes time, thought and work.
3. Talk to other treasury departments. Discussions with peers about initiatives that have successfully moved balance sheet dollars into community investments or that have done considerable research can help fast-track your organization’s efforts. For example, Schaeffer noted that the agreement between Comcast and Inclusiv could be a model for other corporate investors.
Treasury resources are a largely untapped source of capital for social impact investments and can significantly expand the reach and capabilities of community finance organizations. In my next column, I’ll unpack another approach to achieving this impact. Meanwhile, if you have questions about where to start, how to lead your organization or anything you’ve read here, please reach out to me: [email protected].