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Investment Connection: The St. Louis Fed's New Approach to CRA

By

Caleb Bobo

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is working to bridge the gap between community organizations and financial institutions to increase understanding of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The CRA is legislation that ensures financial institutions lend and make/provide qualified investments and financial services in areas where they receive deposits through branches based on the institution size, capacity and strategy. Special designation under the CRA includes low- and moderate-income (families and individuals), small businesses and small farms, distressed and underserved communities (low-, moderate- and middle-income), and communities designated as disaster areas. Investment Connection—pioneered by the Kansas City Fed* and now being replicated by the St. Louis Fed—brings together the talent and skills of community development staff with the expertise of consumer affairs examiners.

Often communities—both rural and urban—suffer from resource scarcity and/or a lack of knowledge about or access to opportunities for investment and partnership. Both are necessary to support innovation, the creation of new projects and growth of established programs to meet community needs. Simply put, in order for community development organizations to respond to the needs of their communities and further their mission, they need access to a variety of funding sources and partners.

Investment Connection is a new approach to sharing information about community development needs in all parts of the Eighth Federal Reserve District, bringing together community and economic development organizations with financial institutions and others who seek to be responsive to those needs. Based loosely on the “Shark Tank” concept, the process and events provide community/economic development organizations the opportunity to pitch their programs to multiple financial institutions and other funders at one time.

After a successful pilot event in 2017, the St. Louis Fed is expanding Investment Connection in the Eighth District, with 2018 events planned in St. Louis, Springfield, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., Little Rock, Ark., and Louisville, Ky.

The process starts several weeks before an Investment Connection event with the release of a request for proposals to community development organizations for projects that are potentially CRA-eligible. Eligible activities include:

  • small-business development,
  • community development finance,
  • financial access and empowerment,
  • affordable housing,
  • economic and workforce development,
  • and community facilities and services.

St. Louis Fed community development and examination staff review the proposals for organizational capacity and potential CRA eligibility. Selection of presenters is on a first-come, first-served basis for completed proposals that meet capacity and CRA-eligibility criteria.

Simultaneously, St. Louis Fed community development staff extend invitations to participate in the Investment Connection event to banks, foundations, government entities and others throughout the region with the capacity to invest, lend or provide services in support of those activities.

The goal for Investment Connection is that it becomes a catalyst that leads to more lending to low- and moderate-income families, individuals, small businesses and small farms; the making of more qualified community development investments; and the sharing of financial expertise to strengthen these communities.

Specifics regarding 2018 Investment Connection events will be available soon. For more information about Investment Connection, please contact Teresa Cheeks Wilson at teresa.cheeks.wilson@stls.frb.org.

Caleb Bobo is an assistant community affairs examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

*Since 2011, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has used Investment Connection to connect community organizations with more than $29 million in funding. Visit www.kansascityfed.org/‌community/‌investmentconnection for more information.