As treasurer of the city of Chicago, Stephanie Neely ’85 holds the financial health of the nation’s third largest city in her capable hands. Now in her second term, she came to the job with a solid 20 years of experience in the investment-banking field, including serving as a vice president at Northern Trust Global Investments, where she worked with public and corporate pension funds and created opportunities for minority- and women-owned financial services firms.
A passionate advocate for entrepreneurship, the native Chicagoan is herself the daughter of a business owner. Her father, who came to Chicago from rural Mississippi, owned a chain of gas stations. “I love this city because of the opportunities it gave my family,” said Neely at the swearing-in for her second term.
Her belief that successful small businesses are necessary for a robust economy is coupled with a desire to increase people’s financial literacy. To these ends, the hallmark of her tenure as city treasurer has been aggressive community outreach via comprehensive workshops, small-business development loan programs, financial literacy programs in Chicago Public Schools, a texting hotline and effective use of social media. Here, Neely shares her thoughts on her position and her passion to educate the public about all things financial.
My focus, first and foremost, is to protect and grow the city of Chicago’s assets. I manage the city’s $8 billion dollar investment portfolio. I am independent of the city’s revenue collection and payment functions, which provides an important check in the system.
Flush in Chicago
With a staff of 22, we’re a lean, mean moneymaking machine. Changes I’ve made to the investment policy helped generate over $780 million dollars in returns on behalf of Chicago taxpayers. I’m proud to say fully 60 percent of our trades are done with female- and minority-owned brokerage firms. We have had four clean independent audits in a row, on our way to a fifth, which has never happened before.
Working in the public sector
The media scrutiny is probably the hardest part. Constant demands on my time mean I have to work hard to balance work and life. And obviously the pay is much lower. But it is an honor to serve the city I love.
Don’t let this happen to you
It does not matter how much money you make, if you do not know the basics of personal finance—spending wisely, saving for emergencies and retirement and the basics of credit —you can get yourself into serious trouble. The dangers are evident with situations like people assuming mortgages they don’t understand and can’t afford, or when they pay high interest rates on credit cards instead of saving for the future.
Teaching financial literacy
We’ve provided access to financial education throughout Chicago—at the city colleges, the libraries and various social-service agencies. What I’m most proud of, though, is that we have provided a financial education curriculum to more than 240,000 Chicago Public School students over the last five years.
Small businesses rule
I know that small businesses are key to our economic growth. My office supports small business with free business education workshops, a contest that awards cash for the best business plan, social media workshops, a microloan program and an annual free small business expo, now in its twelfth year.
Kudos to WFI
I think Smith’s Center for Women and Financial Independence provides a valuable service for women and gives them the tools to manage their own finances, launch their own businesses and understand economics in a global market.
Bringing more women to public service
Women are often reluctant to enter into the political process or public service and often have to be asked. We need to be more outspoken in order to promote our priorities.
I feel smart, confident independent, with critical thinking skills—all due to Smith!
I’m keeping all my options open right now, but high on my list is a run for the U.S. Senate.