Rockfleet Financial Services Inc. opened the doors of its new municipal securities broker-dealer business in Manhattan last week.

Staffed by a team of six veterans and led by chief executive officer Catherine Corrigan, the newly registered firm has ambitious goals to provide an array of services, nationwide, to the municipal market.

Corrigan has been involved in financial services for the past 25 years. Most recently she spent about five years as director of operations for Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., where she was also chief compliance officer. Prior to her stint there she played a variety of roles over 16 years at Paine Webber.

Corrigan said her municipal team has "well over a century of combined experience between them" and can provide clients "with superior service and access to their extensive knowledge of the taxable and tax-exempt fixed-income marketplace."

Rockfleet's strategy is to set up informal alliances with three or four firms that have large retail sales forces but lack a fixed-income underwriting or public finance group. That way Rockfleet said it can access untapped distribution markets, while in the process giving the firms they work with access to municipal paper.

"We want to bring another dimension of distribution to the table," said chief operating officer Michael Keane. "The big thing about issuers is that they want capital-intensive, which we're not, or they want distribution as it relates to retail buyers ... and we can bring it."

Keane also brings three decades of public finance training to his role.

For the past five months he was a director of fixed-income underwriting at Lighthouse Financial Group LLC, and before that spent close to six years as a managing director for Siebert Brandford, where he worked with Corrigan.

Keane was also a managing director at Loop Capital Markets for five years, in addition to prior roles in marketing and risk management for Prager, McCarthy & Sealy LLC and PaineWebber.

Rockfleet's short-term goals include co-managing some deals in the coming months, and it has already responded to a dozen requests for proposals. Longer term, the firm hopes to senior manage a range of deals from across the country. And the ultimate goal is to emulate the success of other women- or minority-owned national firms in the muni business.

Entering the market at this juncture could have its challenges. The top eight firms led more than 71% of all underwriting deals in 2009, according to Thomson Reuters, while in the past couple of years many small and medium-sized firms stocked up on talent when some of the larger businesses collapsed, merged, or retreated from the market.

On the plus side, Keane said issuers are craving diversity among their underwriter rotations so as to include large firms, a regional underwriter, and a national municipals-only firm.

To compete against the larger players will take time, Keane acknowledged, but he said there's plenty of talent still out there to grow the business, and small firms have their own advantages to help underserviced clients.

"When serving as a co-manager or ultimately as a senior manager, the small firm has complete ability to have all hands on deck, from the president and CEO down to the person who processes the tickets," he said. "Sales force, trading, underwriting — everyone is focused on doing the best job they can on that deal."

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