Protecting Nonprofits’ Cash Amid Turmoil

Mark Eshman

Director of Endowments & Foundations Group, Sr. Wealth Advisor


Bank failures have put renewed focus on security. Nonprofits have options beyond banking when looking for a balance of safety and yield.

Man and woman handshake in a board room. Offices can be seen in the background.

In the wake of several notable bank failures and subsequent volatility in financial markets, investors are naturally concerned about keeping their money safe while earning a decent return. Nonprofit organizations are no exception, and the decision on where to keep their funds will likely depend on several factors, such as the organization’s investment and spending policies as well as liquidity needs.


Traditional banks

A regional bank may offer advantages such as ease of access to funds, more personalized service, and potentially higher interest rates than those offered by larger national banks. However, there may also be risks associated with keeping funds in a regional bank, such as the bank’s financial stability and the possibility of fraud.

The recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank have raised concerns among nonprofit leaders and directors who have a fiduciary duty to their constituents. Even if they believe their banks are sound, the upside of being “right” is far outweighed by the downside of being “wrong.”

While many regional banks experienced deposit outflows after the bank failures, large banks like Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo saw a surge of inflows. According to Bloomberg News, Bank of America saw $15 billion in new deposits in a few days alone1. Depositors aggressively moved their money to the large banks that are perceived to be “too big to fail.” The flight to safety comes at a cost, however, as deposits at the large banks typically pay little or no interest.


U.S. Treasuries

On the other hand, investing in a one-year ladder of U.S. Treasuries may offer better yields as well as greater security and stability compared to keeping funds in a regional or large bank. U.S. Treasuries are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, which makes them relatively safe investments. However, investing in U.S. Treasuries may also come with certain drawbacks, such as potentially lower yields than other investment options, such as commercial paper, corporate bonds, and other cash management vehicles.

“Laddering” simply means buying a series of bonds maturing at different times during the coming 12 months. For example, if an organization has $4 million in a bank for short-term needs, they could buy $1 million in a U.S. Treasury maturing in three months, $1 million maturing in six months, $1 million maturing in nine months, and $1 million maturing in one year. Currently, the blended rate of return for a one-year U.S. Treasury ladder in this example is 4.66% (less any fees or expenses). Moreover, the organization would always have cash maturing every three months, allowing them to access liquidity or reinvest for another year.

Any near-term liquidity needs could be satisfied by investing in high-yielding U.S. Treasury money market funds, also currently yielding above 4.00%. The downside of these funds is that rates fluctuate daily. In other words, while you can lock in a guaranteed government rate using a U.S. Treasury ladder strategy, these money market rates could drop if and when the Federal Reserve starts cutting interest rates.

Ultimately, the decision on where to keep a nonprofit organization’s funds should be made after carefully considering the organization’s specific financial situation and objectives, and consulting with a financial advisor or accountant. In a world of higher interest rates, how a nonprofit organization manages their cash is increasingly important and can make the difference between worrying about the safety of their funds, or successfully continuing to fund their mission.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. This document is not a substitute for a client-specific suitability analysis conducted by you and your advisors. You and your advisor must determine the suitability of a particular investment based on the characteristics and features of the investment and relevant information provided by you, including, but not limited to, your existing portfolio, investment objectives, risk profile, and liquidity needs. Investments mentioned in this document may not be suitable for all investors. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will either be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.

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