For Natalie Cohen, retirement from Wells is a beginning, not an end

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While Natalie Cohen has retired as head of municipal research at Wells Fargo Securities, she has plans for her future that ensure she will remain a force in the municipal bond marketplace.

Cohen has returned to her role as president of National Municipal Research Inc., where she does independent consulting, research and writing on state and local government finance, budgeting and economics.

Most recently, Cohen, who lives in New York, served as managing director at Wells Fargo Securities for eight years and was head of muni research since it launched in 2010. She is well known for her leadership and studies about municipal credit risk and bond defaults and is the author of "Municipal Default Patterns: a Historical Study."

“Hiring Natalie marked the inception of Wells Fargo’s municipal research effort," said Diane Schumaker-Krieg, Wells’ global head of research, economics and strategy. "She began as our sole municipal market strategist and later assembled and developed a talented team that now covers affordable housing, education, energy, not-for-profit health care, public-private partnerships, and transportation. Her thoughtful and timely analyses combined with her deep relationships with investors have been critical to Wells Fargo’s growth in the municipal business. We are grateful for her dedicated leadership over the past eight years.”

Cohen officially retired on Sept. 14.

Cohen’s journey into the world of public finance was a bit circuitous and was marked by a variety of experiences.

“It was not a direct path,” she said. “I was at Hampshire College, where I got a BA in analytic philosophy — it’s like math without the numbers.” After graduation, she moved to New York “and fell in love with it.”

She attended New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, where she received an MPA in urban public policy.

She got a job working in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, and moved into city government at the tail end of the city’s fiscal crisis.

She found it both challenging and rewarding.

“We were preparing the city’s first long-term plans — models for the city’s education department at a time of pretty serious fiscal constraints. And I was working to build a model for special education budget,” she said. “There was no good data at the time and we used zero-based budgeting. We were building it up — looking at what we would like in a perfect world and here’s what we can do in reality. It was a very good learning experience.”
While working for city, she met Freda Johnson from Moody’s Investors Service, who invited her come to work for the rating agency.

“I went over to the private sector and did one of the first default studies of municipal bonds, a history of muni defaults — some of the conclusions still hold today,” she said.

She was at Moody’s as an assistant vice president for three years before moving into the world of bond insurance.

Cohen held senior positions at Financial Security Assurance, Enhance Financial Service Group and American Capital Access.

She then published independent commentary, which caught the eye of those at Wells Fargo, who offered a position in 2010.

“Natalie has earned an excellent reputation over her distinguished career," said Phil Smith, head of specialized industries at Wells. "We are so fortunate to have had her leadership in helping Wells Fargo build one of the top-ranked research teams in the municipal industry. The trust and confidence Natalie has developed in her team’s coverage and insights around municipal credit has provided invaluable service to Wells Fargo’s clients.”

Cohen is relishing the time she can spend in New York City now.

“I will continue to read and write and publish and do consulting work," she said. “Freelance is a chance to relax and staying put — and not traveling all around is feeling really good for now.”

She plans to work with organizations such as the National League of Cities and the Government Finance Officers Association.

She said government officials need to know how important municipal bonds are to the United States.

“We need to talk to government officials and explain the markets,” she said.

And what areas will she focus on in the future?

It will be definitely be related to public finance, she said: “The municipal bond market is in my blood.”

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