T. Rowe Price Invests in Baltimore with Financial Education

Interview with Renee Christoff, VP, T. Rowe Price, and Head, Corporate Social Responsibility 

To have the biggest impact companies need to invest in the communities in which they operate. T. Rowe Price believes Baltimore is worth the investment.

Renee Christoff heads T. Rowe Price’s Corporate Social Responsibility department, focusing on strategic, effective, and impactful ways for the firm and its associates to engage in the community. She oversees the corporation's volunteerism, sponsorships, environmental sustainability, financial education outreach, and civic initiatives. She also serves on the Boards of Port Discovery Children's Museum, the United Way of Central MD, and the United Way Baltimore Community City Partnership; and is a trustee of the T. Rowe Price Foundation. Renee earned an M.B.A. from the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore and an M.A. and a B.A. from the Pennsylvania State University.

How has your company engaged in the immediate relief efforts needed in light of recent events in Baltimore?

T. Rowe Price has a long standing community engagement program in Baltimore. It’s where we’re headquartered and it’s our home city.

The latest events in Baltimore have been tragic. In an effort to help, we’ve given $145,000 to support immediate relief efforts.  We also enlisted associates in a drive to donate badly needed supplies since there were no drug stores available. We collected over 34 boxes of toiletries, dietary supplements for seniors, diapers, formula, etc.

Everyone in the community wants to get to the heart of these issues and solve them. We have an outreach strategy that includes working with the mayor and other prominent leaders in Baltimore, as well as international thought leaders on urban unrest, to identify the root cause of the issues and find solutions to make life better for everyone. This is not only where our associates work. It’s their home, too.

Why does T. Rowe Price feel it is important to give to the city of Baltimore?

We’ve been headquartered in Baltimore for over seventy-eight years. It is important to us that Baltimore remains vibrant and thriving.

Our associates are based here. We live here. We also need to recruit new associates to come to Baltimore to work. We want Baltimore to be a place that people want to live, work, and engage.

 Our largest community sponsorship has the “Proud to be Baltimore!” tagline, and we hope to trademark it very shortly. We are serious about our commitment to Baltimore and are exploring different engagement opportunities given the unrest.

We recently published our 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, which offers more information on how we’ve supported Baltimore and other communities in which we have a presence.

Why is building financial capability in communities important and how does it help the city of Baltimore?

We believe good financial habits are important. Poor financial decisions plague our society and result in the breakdown of families. We have made it a priority to stop the negative cycle that occurs when people do not have the education they need regarding personal finance. When families are broken, it puts more stress on communities and government agencies. It’s part of our CSR mission to empower families and to help stop the cycle.

If you educate children early enough about financial concepts, they develop good habits around managing money. These are habits they can maintain for a lifetime.

We started our first financial education program in 2009.  The program included an exhibit and an online game. During the early years we partnered with the Boys and Girls Club in Baltimore and the surrounding areas. It was inspiring to see that kids from some of the poorest families gravitated to the game the fastest and that when they told their parents, the parents wanted to learn as well. We knew we were successful when parents wanted more information about the game.

How do you define your efforts to conduct business in responsible way?

It’s about how we behave responsibly in doing business with and for our clients. It’s our ‘client first’ attitude.  It’s having good policies and procedures in place that protect the long-term interest of our clients, associates, stockholders and our communities.

What are some of the employee engagement efforts at your company?

Employee engagement is a part of our core values. We do model this in many ways by helping associates find volunteer opportunities, assisting in the search process, and providing paid time off for volunteering. Last year, 51% of our 5,900 associates volunteered 60,000 hours.

Volunteering is also a team building exercise for our company. It helps people become more interdependent and collaborative; they need to rely on one another in order to successfully complete projects such as building bicycles for kids.

We help associates find positions on nonprofit boards or places to donate their specific skills and expertise. Finance, Marketing and IT skills are always needed.   

There is also a dollar-for-dollar matching gifts program. We start with a $5K baseline limit on matching gifts to qualified nonprofits up to $25K for executives. We find that associates are very willing to give back to their communities when the right mechanisms are in place. We strive to build a culture of giving.

Describe programs or efforts your company has implemented that help build financial confidence in children and empower individuals.

We have always been education driven. We develop educational materials for our clients; it is part of how we conduct business. So doing the same for kids, parents, and later educators, is a natural extension of our history and culture. We got serious about this and did our research to determine that the 8-14 year old age group was underserved in the financial education space. We also wanted to encourage families to have the conversations about this. Our first formal financial education program was in partnership with Disney Imagineering. We built the Great Piggy Bank Adventure exhibit at EPCOT, an online game and a family web center on our site in 2009. As we began to evolve, we developed a platform called Money Confident Kids and on that platform resides all of our financial education materials today. This past year we developed a new online game and app, called Star Banks Adventure; we also have a traveling exhibit with Radio Disney and an in school partnership with Scholastic to help us reach educators in the classroom.

Tell us about the T. Rowe Price Foundation and how it enables the company to reach its CSR goals and initiatives.

The foundation is the philanthropic arm of the firm. It was created to support our efforts to be good corporate citizens. The foundation focuses on opportunities in education and youth development, as well as the arts, and culture. It has provided over $19 million in funding over the last three years.

A critical focus is on early childhood development.  Children in disadvantaged neighborhoods who fail early in school often continue on that trajectory without better structures in place and new opportunities created.

Do you have any recommendations for companies that are developing programs that support the communities in which they do business?

Yes, I do. It’s so important that businesses get to know the needs of the communities in which they operate. Don’t assume you know, get underneath the obvious, and do the research necessary to become a productive part of the community.

Engage your associates because that could become the platform for your company to have an impact. At a minimum, the more you know about their interests and preferences, the better your program development and hopefully, stronger associate engagement. It’s through your associates that the community will engage with your company the most.

It’s also important that you connect your culture to your business strategy. Understand what you’re giving back to the community, why you’re giving it, and if it will have a positive impact. It makes sense for T. Rowe Price to focus on financial education because its core to our business, just as it would make sense for John Hopkins to focus on health in the community.

Lastly, focus for impact. Companies can’t do everything for everybody but they can prioritize efforts and leverage their resources cost-effectively.

Renee Christoff is a vice president of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc., and T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., where she heads the Corporate Social Responsibility department, focusing on strategic, effective, and impactful ways for the firm and its associates to engage in the community.