IHS Markit hires Dana Villanova to focus on ESG, green bonds

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As investors and issuers focus more on environmental, social and governance issues, IHS Markit has brought on Dana Villanova to help lead its ESG and innovation presence in the municipal market.

Her role expands beyond municipals to the broader Global Markets Group’s fixed-income efforts, as the company expands its reach in the buy and sell sides.

At a time when COVID-19 has rattled the financial markets and affected how business gets done, and when consolidation and cutbacks on headcounts have occurred at a faster clip than pre-crisis, IHS Markit hopes to inform investors and issuers around the globe about the importance of munis for post-crisis rebuilding.

And, as the surge in taxable issuance does not appear to be subsiding since its explosion beginning in the fall of 2019, IHS Markit is also using the influx of that issuance showcasing the electronification and streamlining of market data, which has the potential of opening up international interest. Villanova will be key to growing that effort.

Dana Villanova
Dana Villanova, executive director, IHS Markit

Villanova, who most recently was chief operating officer, co-founder and head of business development at Kestrel Verifiers, joins IHS Markit as executive director. She has more than 15 years of experience in the municipal market, previously serving as a vice president at Assured Guaranty, a trader at Morgan Stanley and is a former Treasurer of the Municipal Bond Club of New York.

"It is truly a privilege to join a firm with the brand recognition, depth of talent and forward-thinking innovation that IHS Markit is known for,” Villanova said. “This unique role will be a great opportunity to leverage my robust background in U.S. munis and collaborate with various product teams at IHS Markit globally.”

Villanova has been focused on ESG and green bonds for the past few years and has been a vocal supporter of bringing to light the effects of those designations to the municipal market.

By bringing on Villanova, IHS Markit plans to use its platforms to build client relationships by educating domestic and international investors on the municipal market’s footprint in ESG, green and social impact investments.

“We are absolutely thrilled to bring Dana aboard to help further innovate our offerings across the muni, ESG and broader Global Markets Group's fixed-income efforts at IHS Markit,” said Will MacPherson, managing director and head of Municipals at IHS Markit. “Dana’s expertise is well-recognized within the industry and she will be instrumental in advancing our vision to deliver best-in-class products and solutions.”

Villanova will focus primarily on municipals, but the role will be expanded for her to be a liaison between the different departments at the company.

IHS Markit, which acquired Ipreo, has been expanding its footprint in the municipal space domestically and globally through buy- and sell-side platforms.

Market participants of all stripes have focused the lens on ESG, climate change and green bonds, from the largest asset managers to third-party verifiers to issuers themselves. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission earlier this month priced more than $341.9 million of taxable green bonds that will be listed on the London Stock Exchange, one of the first issuers to do so for a European and international investor base, signaling the way in which the municipal market is extending its reach abroad.

However, the lack of a universal language to define “green” has been increasingly confusing investors and issuers alike while large asset managers have their own “black boxes” to define what they consider green or ESG and IHS Markit and other firms are trying to make clearer those designations.

Third-party verifiers of green and impact bonds, including firms such as Kestrel and Sustainalytics, which provide green designations, continue to push issuers to adopt the designation. NASDAQ last year launched its own Sustainable Bond Network. Sources said there is value in using those second- or third-party designations, especially for smaller asset managers.

Build America Mutual also has a green designation for insuring bonds. Bloomberg is ascribing "green" designations on certain deals, as well.

“The increasing effects of climate change and the pandemic are helping crystallize how ESG factors can manifest into more concerning credit risks over the longer-term and may/should facilitate a trend toward better disclosure,” Municipal Market Analytics wrote in its weekly Outlook report. “The fiscal health and sustainability of a municipal entity can be eroded by environmental, social, and/or governance factors.”

MMA continued, more frequent and severe climate-related events have focused many investors on assessing these risks and integrating them into views on how they may impact bond pricing and liquidity and repayment of long-term debt.

“Getting information on whether a bond’s purpose meets specific ESG-criteria for investment purposes has gotten easier in recent years as certifications and verifications have been commercialized,” MMA wrote. “But this is trickier on the integration side for several reasons including: 1) the goals of the issuer and investor may not be aligned; 2) the concerns may take a considerable time period to manifest; 3) the issues are often high-impact, lower probability events; 4) the lack of quantitative measures and indirect ways in which some ESG-related risks are evaluated; and 5) the subjective nature of the materiality threshold.”

Villanova, who started her position on Monday, holds a B.S. in Communication from Florida Atlantic University and obtained Certifications in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Strategies from UNC-Wilmington and Business Strategies for Social Impact from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently an advisor to the board of the Municipal Bond Women’s Forum, and member of The Municipal Bond Club of New York (treasurer 2012, vice president 2013), and the Financial Women’s Association and Impact Capital Forum. Villanova will split time between New York and Colorado Springs.

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