Newsmaker Profile: Robin Prunty
In a survey of readers, Smith's Research & Gradings asked about people who have done a great job during this Coronavirus crisis. Robin Prunty, Managing Director, Head of Analytics and Research at S&P Global Ratings came up a number of times, prompting our conversation with her.
Before we get to S&P's COVID-19 Coverage, let's take the opportunity to get to know you better. Can you tell me more about how you came to S&P, share some insights learned during your career in public finance, and also talk about your interest and support for women on Wall Street?
Prunty: Sure, so my path to public finance was probably not different than a lot of other people. When I finished college I really wanted to go to law school, but I was on my own to fund it so I opted for graduate school where I could earn a fellowship. That made it a more reasonable financial alternative.
I enrolled in a public policy program. Throughout the course of the program and the internships, the most significant being with the New York State Division of Budget, I was turned on to the muni bond world. The NYS Division of Budget was just starting out their appropriation financing program, which gave me exposure to many investment bankers when they came in to visit. It just was fascinating to me. Someone in that NYS Budget office went to S&P and he called me, said they're hiring. I interviewed and wound up getting the offer a week later. And the rest is history as they say.
I wound up being at a great intersection of public policy and finance. And it hasn't disappointed at any point along the way, because it's always been a continuous learning opportunity in the municipal bond market. Not just what's going on in the capital markets, but the range of things that are always playing out from a public policy standpoint. There's always something new and different to learn and to think about — and I love that opportunity.
While the path you described may sound familiar now, I think readers need to know that at the time you were blazing a new trail. What was it like when you started working on Wall Street?
I was at 25 Broadway, that was the initial home for S&P. Our office has only been at one other place, which is 55 Water Street.
The person who was heading up the public finance department that actually hired me was Vlad Stadnyk, a long-time municipal bond industry veteran. We happened to go to the same college and graduate school — so, talk about walking into something that was super helpful! At that time, it was a big department, we had pretty significant credit coverage. But it has certainly grown a lot over the years.
We've had a lot of experiences with emergencies on Wall Street. We had 9/11, we had Hurricane Sandy, which really hit downtown hard, and more especially the parking facility at S&P's 55 Water Street location. Did any of that, any of those experiences, prepare you for the COVID-19 credit crisis of 2020?
Certainly. I was covering the Northeast in the early 90s which was the center of a very significant recession. There were many that you just mentioned after that too.
I say to our analysts all the time: You learn more during a recession/fiscal crisis than you do at any other time from an analyst perspective.
You mentioned recessions several times, why? Can you tell me more about how recessions have influenced your analysis?
During a recession, you see things that play out that you've never seen before. It really makes you think about various credit elements and how they all connect. The great recession of 2008 was a very significant learning experience for S&P broadly, as well as the public finance group. I think the Great Recession did help set us up to respond to this pandemic.
S&P had organized things like the Credit Conditions Committee, where senior analytic leaders from all over the company meet quarterly, and more frequently as needed, as the case may be in a situation like this. These meetings include our economics team and we focus on the economic outlook and other risks and how they may interplay across sectors. We were well positioned with our organizational set-up, where I'm on a team with heads of analytics and research for each practice across Ratings. I am in meetings regularly with them, so I am hearing what is happening in corporates, sovereigns, and all the other practices. We were able to leverage our economist's forward view to form a view for public finance broadly, as well as the individual credit sectors.
As an example, our corporate airline team worked closely with S&P's entire transportation team and shared information. It is one of those connections that really solidified during the post-great recession fiscal crisis and I think that's been very helpful.