Author: Matthews, Frank
Date published: March 3, 2011
Teachers, higher education administrators and financial planners are well acquainted with the work of TIAACREF. The insurance and investment company has been a central player Ln teacher retirement and financial planning for nearly a century. Twelve years ago, the organization spawned the ???-CREF Institute, a research-focused arm that brings together top theorists, administrators and researchers to identify and solve tomorrow's higher education problems.
Today, the Institute rests in the capable hands of Stephanie BellRose, who brings a decade of experience as founding president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. The Harvard-educated lawyer sat down with Diverse to discuss the role of the Institute, the importance of proper financial education and the impact of the current economic climate on the public's trust.
DI: What are the priorities for the TIAA-CREF Institute?
SBR; We've spent the past several months examining some of the possibilities for the Institute going forward. We have conducted a full sweep of where we are and where we're headed and what the needs are. What came out ofthat exercise was an aspiration to establish the Institute as the pre-eminent thought leader and 21stcentury model for knowledge building on lifetime financial security, institutional building in higher education and other dimensions of the charitable community. What we hope to do is to continue to generate new knowledge through relevant and timely research and to disseminate knowledge through programs and strategic communications.
DI: What exactly do you mean when you talk about lifetime financial planning?
SBR: We actually have a new campaign entitled "Become your future you with us." We want people to think about their aspirations in a very serious way and how they can get there. We're very concerned about this because too few people are well positioned to really be analytical about their future. We have a long-term and enduring commitment to those who serve society. We have a great track record, and we plan to build on that record.
DI: Clearly, the economic woes of the past few years have eroded trust in financial institutions. How has this affected the lifetime planning process?
SBR: The challenges have been tremendous for individuals, institutions and for society in general. TIAA-CREF has long enjoyed positive relationships with its participants. We think it's because of the long-term approach that we've taken. When people begin during early stages of their lives to invest for retirement they have the ability to have confidence that we will be focused on their best interest. We actually enjoy the highest level of trust among financial institutions in the country.
DI: Higher education institutions haven't escaped public suspicion and scrutiny. What steps does the academy need to take to rebuild that public trust?
SBR: One aspect of the strategy needs to be clearly providing the kind of financial literacy and advice to enable people to identify their own best interests and the right actions to achieve those interests. Employers have a real opportunity to facilitate that. The people who work on these campuses and charitable organizations are working for the public good. They deserve to have the best financial education available to them. Employers need to look very carefully at the track records as they seek partners to provide financial security for their employees and ensure that the long-term outcomes that can be demonstrated by the service providers really has inured to the benefit of their employees. That in and of itself helps give a level of comfort and trust.
DI: Many schools are struggling with issues of accountability, retention and diversity. Will the Institute tackle these questions?
SBR: Definitely. Those kinds of issues are frequently on the agenda of our Higher Education Leadership Conference. The way we come at it is by serving a convening function, bringing people together who are in leadership roles or who have the kind of knowledge that leaders need to access in order to lead better. These are issues that we care about because they affect our clients. We help promote the dialogue around the solutions. Another way that we contribute is by facilitating forums for dialogue. We're also partnering with organizations like [the American Council on Education] to tackle these issues.
DI: Is race fatigue a real issue? Are people tired of talking about diversity, access, equity and other related issues?
SBR: Within the universe of people with whom we are in frequent dialogue, there remains sensitivity to the issue, inclusion in particular. For instance, Brit Kirwan, who has a stellar record in this area, was the recipient of this year's Theodore Hesburg Award. That set of values really does reflect what the TIAA-CREF Institute is behind.