Q&A: Claire Mezzanotte, Managing Director, U.S. & European Structured Finance, DBRS

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Describe your career path.

I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor's degree in finance. During the summer and winter breaks, I worked for my brother's company, a boutique investment bank that raised capital for hotel development in the Caribbean. Afterward, I joined a Connecticut bank, Citytrust, and was part of its credit training program. A year-and-a-half into it, Chase acquired the bank, and I spent four years in Chase's credit department and trained to become a lender for middle market companies. Having known Chase well, I moved to New York with the aspiration of finding an investment banking job. I met a recruiter who placed analysts at Moody's and took a job in their municipal structured finance group. After I was there for a year-and-a-half, I was recruited by Fitch Ratings. I spent 12 years at Fitch starting in the municipal structured finance group and moving into the asset-backed securities group, a group specializing in credit backed by student loans, credit cards and other consumer and commercial assets. I was asked to join Fitch's newly formed credit policy group and was involved with drafting policies and procedures related to our ratings process and chaired the committee responsible for reviewing and approving rating methodologies for structured finance globally. Next, I was asked to rejoin the ratings side and manage the consumer asset-backed securities group where I was responsible for analytics, modeling and surveillance. I was then recruited by a former colleague from Fitch to join DBRS as head of credit policy. I joined the firm in April of 2007, and a year later, was asked to take on the management of the asset and residential mortgage-backed group in the U.S. Within the last year, we reopened an office in London and re-entered the European market. Today, I'm responsible for the asset- and residential mortgage-backed and covered bond groups for the U.S. and Europe.

Describe your role at DBRS.

I am responsible for the ratings' group's analytics, modeling and surveillance in addition to publishing rating methodologies. I meet with investors, issuers, and bankers regularly. I also speak at industry conferences on a variety of topics.

What is a typical day like for you?

It can be comprised of several different activities. One of my most important responsibilities is chairing our rating committees where analysts present rating recommendations for proposed structured finance transactions. As chair, I ensure we are abiding by our policies, procedures and rating methodologies. I also serve as a resource for the group and provide guidance on rating issues. I meet with industry participants, notably investors to discuss trends in the market, describe our rating methodologies and explain how we arrived at particular rating conclusions. I also interact with issuers and bankers regularly - responding to requests for ratings, meeting with companies and their management teams.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring ratings professionals?

Undergraduate coursework is very important. We look for people who possess both strong quantitative and qualitative skill sets. In this business, you need to be able to evaluate the financial viability of proposed financial structures, read legal documents and opinions, and have to be able to integrate a variety of analytical components into a ratings presentation. You need to be able to write and articulate concepts and ideas effectively. So, courses that focus on honing these types of quantitative and qualitative skills are very valuable. You must also stay abreast of financial markets, and currently sovereign issues, regulatory reforms and how their affects may impact the companies and structures that are rated. Overall, you have to have the ability to look at the outside world and relate it back to what you do. It's also important to network. Informational interviews are very important. They serve as an effective way to learn about what different positions people have, what skills they need to be effective and how companies operate so that you can decide how to align your interests with your career path.

What skills are most important to be successful in the ratings business?

The most important skills needed to be successful in the rating business include the ability to effectively communicate in a concise and articulate manner. You need to be organized and possess good time management skills to ensure requested timelines can be met. You need to have good interpersonal skills as we interact with many constituents in the market place.

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