FHN Launches Midwest Banking Push, Expands Southwest Reach

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FHN Financial Capital Markets will establish its first Midwest banking presence in Chicago, led by Melanie Shaker, and put banking boots on the ground in Scottsdale, Arizona, with the hiring of Rene Moreno.

Shaker will join the company’s existing Chicago office, which houses sales professionals, on May 24, and Moreno started Monday in what marks a new office for the company, although the company is already doing business there. . Both are senior vice presidents.

“It’s part of a natural expansion for us,” said the company’s national chief financial officer, Ajay Thomas. FHN is the investment banking arm of Memphis-based First Horizon Bank. Public finance is based in Texas where Thomas is based.

Chicago-based public finance industry veteran Melanie Shaker will launch FHN’s expansion effort in the Midwest.

“Melanie brings a very diverse and unique background that I believe will resonate with issuers in the Midwest as she introduces our company to the region. Rene brings a very technical skill set to us with many strong connections in Arizona and the Southwest,” Thomas said.

Shaker brings a wide range of experience to FHN, but this position marks his first experience in banking. She joins the firm from S&P Global Ratings where she has worked since 2016 as a relationship manager.

She previously worked for Sycamore Advisors where she opened an office in Chicago. On the issuer side, she served as Chief Financial Officer of City Colleges Chicago and Deputy Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer of Chicago Public Schools after spending seven years early in her career as an analyst at Fitch Ratings.

Shaker will cover issuers based in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“I had a great experience at S&P Global and being on the business side complemented my credit history and prepared me well for this opportunity,” Shaker said.

Moreno joined FHN from Crew & Associates where he had worked since 2020 as a director. He previously held banking positions at Hilltop Securities Inc. and Piper Sandler and spent nearly four years at Student Loan Capital Strategies advising student loan agencies. Moreno will cover transmitters in Arizona, New Mexico, part of Texas and southern California.

“I’m excited to leverage the exceptional experience of FHN’s underwriting office and industry in Arizona, California and the surrounding Southwest region,” said Moreno.
Thomas said he had been considering expansions in the Midwest and Arizona for several years, but was looking for the right professionals.

Thomas joined the company in 2017 to lead a makeover and expansion. The new hires bring the number of bankers to 23. They are located in offices in Chicago, Scottsdale, New York, Charlotte, Tampa, Birmingham, Connecticut and four Texas offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The firm’s public finance and municipal bond practice has approximately 50 professionals and includes a 12-member underwriting and trading team, supported by 149 sales professionals, 11 of whom focus specifically on municipal securities. The company has access to $8.67 billion in municipal underwriting capital.

The number of bankers has actually decreased slightly since Thomas took over and most of those who were there then are no longer there.

“It was a wholesale transformation” with the aim of increasing the size of the transaction, focusing more on banking than advisory work and increasing the long-term profitability of the municipal bank, said Thomas, who brought many members of his banking group of William Blair & Co. with him after Blair’s exit from public finance.

Gross revenue, profitability and number of transactions have all increased over the past three years and exceeded targets, Thomas said. The firm ranks 17th nationally among senior executives so far this year, credited with 83 deals worth $1.85 billion, and finished last year in 19th place from 20th in 2020. , 23rd in 2019 and 24th in 2018, according to data from Refinitiv. .

Rene Moreno, an Arizona-based public finance professional, will establish an Arizona banking presence for FHN.

Breaking into new markets can take time as many issuers select subscribers from pre-qualified lists and some update these lists frequently, others may use the same pool for several years.

“We’re going to be patient,” Thomas said.

The company is also already pre-qualified with some issuers in the Midwest like Wisconsin and bankers outside of Arizona have connections in the state. The company subscribed to Tucson’s recent retirement bond issue.

Thomas said the company emphasizes its unique banking, pricing and distribution strengths to new customers by bringing an asset class of investors in the form of custodian banks to the table based on existing relationships. FHN Financial serves more than 50% of all depository banks nationwide with assets of at least $100 million. The asset class is a buy-and-hold investor that lends itself to various coupon structures.

Expansion remains in Thomas’ mind with a strengthening of existing sector banking capabilities, from transport to education, with the aim of establishing higher education and healthcare specialties thereafter. Thomas plans to increase the number of bankers to 40 in the next few years.

In 2020, First Horizon and Iberia Bank merged and adopted a municipal growth strategy after a name change in 2019. In February, TD Bank Group announced a definitive agreement to acquire First Horizon Corp. and all of its assets, including the capital markets division. The deal requires regulatory approval and is expected to close in late 2022.

TD operates its own investment banking group, so the impact of the bank merger on FHN is not yet clear. “News of the final agreement has no impact on how we manage public finances and we are growing and have a number of initiatives in the fixed income division,” Thomas said.

The firm also promotes its diversity, a factor that has become important for some issuers. More than 30% of the public finance group is in the diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, category, including new hires and Thomas, who is a first-generation Indian American.

After internal review, company faces no potential loss of business after some issuers like Texas banned doing business with private companies that discriminate against the gun industry or boycott fossil fuels, Thomas said.

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