A pioneer in the municipal bond industry who was revered and relied on for her extensive knowledge and analytical insights of state government credits, Claire G. Cohen was a force to be reckoned with during her 49-year career in public finance.
She was recognized by New York Magazine as one of the “100 Smartest New Yorkers” for her “ability to see the flesh-and-blood community beyond the spreadsheet,” in addition to winning industry awards.
Her passing in February of this year was a huge loss to the municipal bond industry and to colleagues who considered her their mentor and role model.
Cohen, a generalist who gave a lifetime of service to the public finance industry, was highly respected throughout the municipal bond world and among state and local government finance professionals.
“I think one of the most important contributions that she made to the industry was that she truly was a trailblazer for women in public finance,” said Bill Oliver, an independent consultant and retired media liaison for the National Federation of Municipal Analysts.
A graduate of Radcliffe College, Cohen began her career at Dun & Bradstreet, which in 1961 merged with Moody’s Investors Service.
She served in many roles at Moody’s before departing in 1989 to become a vice president at the newly restructured Fitch Ratings.
“Claire was already a living legend when she came to Fitch,” said Rich Raphael, president of Verify Financial and a former managing director and head of U.S. public finance at Fitch.
A former chair of the Municipal Analysts Group of New York and member of the NFMA, Cohen trained and influenced scores of analysts in the foundational credit approaches she was instrumental in developing.
“She was a diligent researcher, was never afraid to ask questions and had a healthy amount of skepticism for what she was analyzing,” said Hyman Grossman, Cohen’s former counterpart at Standard & Poor’s, and a colleague when he was a junior analyst at Dun & Bradstreet.
“I think this gave all of those who were trained by Claire a strong foundation in municipal research that benefited them throughout their careers,” he added.
“The fact that she personally built the state ratings business at Fitch is a testament to the respect they had for her and the weight that ratings carried in the marketplace,” Grossman added.
Her colleagues at MAGNY and throughout the municipal industry said her long and meaningful career had a lasting impact on municipal bond analysis.
“She was smart and always highly opinionated, never being afraid to tell you what she thought,” Grossman said.
Cohen had “a world-class knowledge base and presentation skills,” according to George Friedlander, municipal market and policy and credit strategist, at George Friedlander and Associates.
“If you presented her with a hypothetical topic, she could turn it into a full-blown analysis in a matter of days,” he added.
“Absolutely no one could keep up with her then or in the years that followed,” recalled Raphael, who succeeded Cohen at Fitch when she retired in 2004.
In addition to MAGNY and NFMA, she was also a member of the Society of Municipal Analysts, served as a Government Accounting Standards Advisory Council member and was an educational resource to the National Association of State Treasurers, which presented her with its Corporate Affiliate Award for her contributions.
Other industry awards included Career Achievement Awards from the NFMA and the Municipal Forum of New York, as she was recognized for “her legendary analytical prowess and quest to broaden and deepen her knowledge.”
She was also honored with a Trailblazing Women in Public Finance award in 2013 at The Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year Awards.
“Claire was a dynamo in the public finance industry,” said Freda Johnson. “She dedicated her long business career to state and local government finance.”
“She affected so many people in our industry and through her long career helped shape much of the credit approach that will continue to ripple through our industry for some time to come,” Raphael said.