Understanding NYC Investment Policy Formation and Its Impacts

New York City Comptroller John Liu. Photo by Cityyear, courtesy Creative Commons. By Sergio Galeano, Leadership Fellow

My experience as a summer associate within the NYC Comptroller’s Office was nothing short of a wonderful learning experience. The internship offered me a great opportunity to have a firsthand glimpse of policy formation and of the important connection between the public and private sectors.

As an institutional investor, the NYC Comptroller’s Office spends a great deal of its capital and resources in the form of policy. As an independent governmental agency that serves as both an advisor and check upon the Office of the Mayor, the Comptroller's Office is in charge of overseeing the budget and finances of the city of New York. More importantly, it is responsible for overseeing the long-term sustainability of the five major pensions funds within NYC. Within the Corporate Governance department, I participated in policy implementation and safekeeping the pensions’ viability and public image within the capital market. Overall, a large portion of the policy guidelines deal with financial oversight and fair business practices.

Increased Scrutiny and Activism The financial recession and the subsequent passage of Dodd Frank spurred a revamping of current policies to take into account increased levels of scrutiny and accountability within the corporate environment. In addition, increased activism in the areas of environmental sustainability and climate change have left many companies with little choice but to adapt to higher standards to ethical behavior. Together, social and environmental issues make up a bulk of the policies the office implements in order to justly represent both the NYC residents whose pensions are on the line, as well as the broader set of stakeholders who are affected by the practices of the corporations the pensions invest in.

At the time that I entered the summer associate program in the early summer, the policy manual in use was in many ways outdated and lacked key provisions, which recent years had brought to the forefront of corporate governance. While political issues such as that of apartheid and the IRA were no longer relevant to the times, other issues, such as greater levels of financial supervision, were lacking from the pages of a manual, which in many respects portrayed the city’s position on numerous controversial issues.

Setting Investment Policy on Key Issues I was tasked with editing and revamping the current policy and presenting the director of corporate governance with an updated and adapted manual that could be used to replace the outdated version. By the end of a month, I was privileged to say that I was as well familiar with every page and detail of the office’s policy and stand on many key issues. In addition, I helped create a presentation that would be directed towards the board of trustees regarding how to better consolidate and compromise on certain policies. These included, for example, ones in which the teachers' union and police union were at odds with.

In many respects, public policy is a reconciliation between the objective viewpoint of statistical research and economic theory, and the subjective lens through which individuals gauge the social implications and measured effects of policy. Actions that are mathematically and theoretically sound may have adverse effects on different populations. At a time when much debate has focused on the right balance of government and private enterprise, public policy and its long-term implications have become an ever more valuable asset that must be strengthened and justly implemented. My experience at the NYC comptroller’s office fortified my understanding of such issues and sparked a great deal of intrigue with a field that will play a crucial role in my future career.

Read more about Sergio and our other fellows here.