Investing in women, water and community; MWRD makes inaugural public funds investment in First Women’s Bank

News & Events | May 7th, 2024

An investment made by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is maximizing public dollars toward the protection of critical water infrastructure and the environment while also uplifting a financial institution uniquely positioned to offer women more business opportunities.

The MWRD Treasury Section recently executed its first certificate of deposit (CD) investment with Chicago-based First Women’s Bank (FWB). The $1 million CD, at a 4.50-percent rate, is the first government account for FWB, the only women-founded, women-owned and women-led commercial bank in the country.

Founded in 2021, FWB is a “first-of-its-kind, purpose driven bank with a mission to grow the economy and advance the role of women within it,” according to its mission statement. The bank recently completed its certifications with regulatory agencies to now allow governmental agencies to complete CD transactions with the bank.

“We are extremely proud to make this historic investment to grow a local financial institution with a commitment to support the needs of women-owned businesses,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “By supporting First Women’s Bank, we can recycle local funds in the local economy, just as we manage water for sustainable reuse in our environment.”

FWB strives to grow the economy and elevate the role of women within it. “Our clients are entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders–moms, daughters and caregivers. So are we,” FWB’s website states.

Women-owned businesses are growing two times faster than the national average and women of color are driving that growth, according to FWB’s website. Despite this increase, there is a gender gap in access to capital. Women receive only 16 percent of all conventional business loans and just 4.4 percent of the total dollar amount, according to FWB.

In late 2019, the MWRD updated its investment policy to consider environmental, social, governance/leadership (ESG), human capital, and business model/innovation factors in addition to financial factors when evaluating investments that bolster the MWRD’s finances for construction, operating funds, and debt service funds. Human capital factors, such as diversity and inclusion, are considered when making these investments.

“The financial market is now open for women, and we are grateful to have an opportunity to help spur that growth in the local economy and for women-owned business,” said MWRD Chairman of Finance Marcelino Garcia. “Our investment policy is designed to not only increase our opportunity to protect the region’s water environment, but also support our local economy with new investment opportunity.”

In addition to managing MWRD investments with minimal risk, the MWRD Treasury Section issues bonds to finance the wastewater collection, treatment, and flood control facilities; meets the cash requirements of the MWRD’s operations through cost-effective strategy; utilizes appropriate technology and efficient banking practices; and maintains the MWRD’s outstanding bond ratings. The MWRD makes a proactive commitment to supporting local institutions with its investments and regularly invests in CDs with a variety of banks, including local community banks.

In 2023, Fitch Ratings reaffirmed the MWRD’s AAA credit rating, and Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the MWRD’s credit rating to Aa1. In 2022, S&P Global upgraded the MWRD’s credit rating from AA to AA+. Fitch highlighted the MWRD’s reliable revenue stream, lower operating cost burdens and improvements in debt structuring to fund capital projects and meet the MWRD’s pension and retirement obligations. Additionally, the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) recognized the MWRD with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 47th consecutive year.

This strong fiscal stewardship allows the MWRD to protect the regional water environment and serve 5.19 million residents living across Chicago and 128 communities.

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