Charting a New Course:
Q & A with Kimberly Lyons, BA ’02, MPA ’04
Assistant Vice President/Analyst, Moody’s Investors Service
As Kim Lyons, a sociology major, was about to begin her senior year at UAlbany, an uncertain economy forced her to rethink her plans. She hadn’t considered grad school, until the events of 9/11 made her realize finding a job might be much more difficult than she had anticipated. Highly motivated to make herself more competitive in the job market, Kim entered Rockefeller College and set out in a new direction.
What are your current responsibilities at Moody’s?
Kim: I evaluate the credit worthiness of state governments. The majority of states and municipalities sell municipal bonds to finance capital projects. Here at Moody’s, we assess the ability of a government entity to repay its debts. Right now I have a portfolio of seven states, but I’ve covered up to 13 at a time. My current portfolio includes Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
Kim: Determining a credit rating can take anywhere from one week to a couple months, depending on the level of complexity. There was a time when the municipal bond sector was considered the boring/safe sector of fixed income. But as we’ve seen, the entire financial industry has undergone a huge structural change. Now we definitely have to keep our eyes and ears open and be ahead of the markets. I have news alerts set up to let me know when any of my credits (states in my portfolio) are in the news or if there is an event that may have an impact on my states. I’ll give you a perfect example. In one of my states, Wisconsin, there’s an effort on to recall the governor, and while it may not impact the ability of the state to repay its debt, it is something that I am paying very close attention to. We look at all aspects of a credit. We look at its current debt profile, financial position, the state’s economy, and the governance and management of that state. In the morning, I scan the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, check Bloomberg and all of the major media outlets, return e-mails, and hold conference calls.
I also reach out to my issuers frequently to stay on top of any potential problems. We have numerous ongoing projects in addition to ratings. We are responsible for putting out a lot of research. We also have frequent training at Moody’s, our in-house version of continuing education which all analysts are encouraged to participate in. Every day is different, depending on what’s going on in your state at the time.
How did you go from sociology to public finance?
September 11th happened at the start of my senior year. That changed everything, including the economy and the job outlook. Everyone thought that it would be so easy to get work after we graduated, but the world changed for us on 9/11. I had started an internship in the New York State Assembly. During my internship, I
met some Rockefeller students who spoke very highly of the College’s MPA program. Before that, I had no thoughts of going to graduate school, but at that point I realized I needed a back-up plan. I applied to Rockefeller and was accepted. I took a public finance course with Professor David Liebschutz. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of having an MPA, working in the private sector and utilizing a background in public finance. He invited Robin Prunty of Standard & Poor’s to speak to us. She gave us insight into rating agencies, bond insurance firms, and all the opportunities that would be available to us. That was really the pivotal point in my time at Rockefeller, when everything changed direction for me and put me on the path to where I am now. One of the companies Robin mentioned was the first company I worked for after grad school, Financial Guaranty Insurance Company (FGIC).
What brought you to Moody’s?
While I was working at FGIC, I made some friends who had begun their careers at Moody’s. One woman in particular really championed my desire to work at a rating agency and put me in contact with someone at Moody’s. I always knew it was the company I would ultimately work for. Every good credit analyst worth her salt started at a rating agency, and the majority of them came from Moody’s.
It’s interesting that 9/11 forced you to shift gears in terms of your career focus, and now you’re working right in the heart of the financial district where it all took place 10 years ago. Do you ever think about that when you look out your window?
I am reminded of 9/11 every day. One of my biggest challenges when I first started working at Moody’s was overcoming my fear of the WTC site. Now that we have moved into 7 World Trade Center and I have a front row seat to the rebuilding process, it gives me a great sense of pride to see how the city and the financial district have rebounded.
Where to from here? What are your career aspirations?
I absolutely love what I do. I definitely want to continue on my current career path. The great thing about working at Moody’s is that you never get bored. I’m challenged every day and I’m learning different aspects of my industry while enjoying the benefits of job stability.