Janet Cowell

Former Treasurer

Statewide, NC

Treasurer Janet Cowell is North Carolina’s first woman to win the post. Known for her independence and commitment to doing what is right regardless of politics, Cowell has transformed the Department of State Treasurer, bringing in experts from outside government and instituting reforms critical to North Carolina’s long-term fiscal health. Under her executive leadership as Treasurer, North Carolina has maintained a triple-A Bond rating for strong financial and debt management practices, and is recognized as one of only seven states to earn the rating. As of January 1, 2012, Cowell has stepped up to oversee the State Health Plan, recognizing an opportunity to provide enhanced governance and accountability of critical health benefits provided to the 650,000 members in North Carolina.

After earning an MBA, Cowell worked as a financial analyst with banks, and later provided business consulting to various Fortune 500 companies and served as an adjunct professor at two institutions of higher learning in the state. In 2001, Cowell began contributing her financial expertise and leadership to work for the citizens of North Carolina. She was elected to Raleigh City Council in 2001 (serving two terms), was elected to the North Carolina State Senate in 2004, and began serving as Treasurer in 2008.

In 2011, she worked to integrate financial education with K-12 social studies curriculum across the state, visited many of North Carolina’s institutions of higher learning to educate students on managing student debt, and recently partnered with the State Education Assistance Authority and the Community College System to launch Advanced Money Management for Community College Students.

Pro-Growth Progressive Ideas Shared

Problem

Existing retirement programs for teachers often charge employees high fees and thus reduce amounts employees are actually saving for retirement.

Solution

State Treasurer Cowell set up a publicly sponsored statewide retirement plan option that will become available to school districts this fall and can offer lower fees as more teachers participate in the program. This new retirement plan provides a better opportunity for teachers in the state to save for a more secure retirement.


Problem

Local government officials are tasked with monitoring and reporting on the financial positions of government but have lacked a method of quickly comparing themselves to peer governments. As a result, it can be difficult for governments to benchmark financial performance and learn best practices related to financial management.

Solution

State Treasurer Cowell implemented the County and Municipal Fiscal Analysis Dashboard, an online tool that helps citizens and public officials evaluate the financial condition of a selected local government on various dimensions of resource flow and stock for governmental activities, general fund, water and sewer fund, and electric fund. This tool allows local governments to learn and implement best practices in financial management, increases government transparency and engages a broader citizen base to help build constituent trust in government.


Problem

Currently, several groups manage various financial literacy resources and tools within their own domains but there is no central location or resource for people of every age to leverage these tools. Additionally, there is no group to look for partnership opportunities across these organizations and resources.

Solution

State Treasurer Cowell has proposed centralizing these financial literacy resources, both public and private, in a one stop portal for every age and life cycle stage for greater access to these tools. Through partnerships with local banks, financial planning groups, and other community resources and sponsors the program would gain funding as well as services to be featured within this central resource. Understanding how to manage your money and save for the future is critical knowledge at any age and helps everyone learn how to contribute to our growing economy.


Problem

Public employee benefits are often managed by different agencies, often with different goals and objectives. As a result, the customer experience varies significantly. In addition, the fine points of health and retirement benefits can be difficult to understand and can interfere with employees making optimum decisions for career advancement and retirement.

Solution

State Treasurer Cowell is in the process of merging state health benefits and state retirement benefits under common leadership to create a global benefits program. By combining the NC State Health Plan and the NC Retirement Benefits program, the state will be able to share data and data analytics capabilities, develop unified customer experience strategies, and develop more effective outreach opportunities. Ultimately, the Treasurer hopes to help employees develop a better sense of their financial and physical health and make the best possible benefit choices for their future success.


Problem

In order to drive economic growth and create jobs in the changing economy, states like North Carolina must find ways to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. North Carolina currently has a great talent pool for entrepreneurs but lacks sufficient access to venture capital to fund new businesses. Many talented entrepreneurs are therefore moving elsewhere to seek funds to drive their new business ideas. 

Solution

Treasurer Janet Cowell is supporting legislation to create a Venture Multiplier Fund that will help grow the local economy by prioritizing investments in new businesses and local university innovation. This proposal would allow the Department of State Treasurer to invest a small portion of the state’s unclaimed property fund with the new Venture Multiplier fund. The fund would prioritize early-stage and smaller private-sector businesses while also creating seed capital for North Carolina’s universities to stimulate commercialization of university technology innovations across the state.


Problem

Because many states continue to face budget challenges, many states have scaled back critical funding for education and entrepreneurship.

Solution

State Treasurer Cowell proposes the creation of a multi-billion dollar state-funded endowment using escheat money that pays for community college and university scholarships and invests in high-growth funds and companies. The endowment is literally an investment in the twin goals of educating our future workforce and creating new jobs.