Specialist Vs. Generalist: What Public Finance Firms Desire

What do public finance firms desire - a specialist or a generalist? Here's what you should know.

As we continue with hiring trends for 2023, there is one trend that is just beginning.  Public finance firms are looking for bankers that are out of the ordinary, primarily traditional municipal bankers once coveted by firms are now being shunned for specialists.  That is not to say that if you are a generalist you are out of a job (which is not my opinion in this blog).  However, my premise that I will elaborate on is that the traditional, general, obligation-type banker is not as in demand as in previous years.  In addition, this is occurring within the bond counsel world as well.

Portability Is Important

Why is this happening within public finance firms?  First, the specialist is in more demand due to the portability of their book of business.  The specialist is much more confident that a client/issuer is going to follow them to a new firm, and it does not even matter to which firm.  The concept that “You’re my banker,” or, “You’re my counsel,” is now more prevalent and is being echoed throughout the industry.  This means it does not matter whose business card you put on the desk of a potential client, if you’ve done business with them over the years, the only feedback you are going to get is, “Congratulations on your new firm.”  A well-positioned public finance professional who is niche oriented is going to have truly little internal concerns if their clients are going to follow them; thus, making them a great candidate for a new firm.

Public Finance Firms Search For That Unique, Star Quality

Further exploring the specialist, it is apparent that firms slowing down in their hiring process will take a call from a recruiter about a specialist over a generalist every day.  Here’s an interesting observation: the more “exotic” the specialist, the more they are in demand.  For example, a specialist that is now outside mainstream public finance is being courted by public finance firms.  The reason for this is the higher payouts and the need to diversify from traditional public finance revenues, especially if the market slows down as some are expecting in 2023.  Firms are reaching out to recruiters like us, asking for more specialized professionals in areas that they never contemplated getting into a couple of years ago.  For example, one area is the merging of traditional public finance with the world of investment banking which has a tax-exempt flavor as we look at middle markets.  Another area is that of credit tenant leases.  However, on the counsel side, we have representation of P3 issuers and middle-market firms versus traditional city and general obligation bond clients.

Becoming More Desirable To Public Finance Firms

What does this mean to you as a potential candidate thinking of their business in 2023?  How can you prepare yourself to become more desirable to public finance firms or other future endeavors? Most importantly, you should figure out how you can take your existing practice (financial or legal) and become more of the “go-to person” rather than relying on the name of the firm you are currently representing.  If you are a junior public finance professional, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can originate deals and matters respectively.  As these are the tell-tale signs that you will be able to move your clients down the road if that is a desire of yours.  If you are a specialist already, try to further define your niche, and if there is a way to expand into non-traditional public finance areas by all means try to accomplish that.  It will only help you even more by either increasing your current compensation or making you more desirable to a new suitor.

Your Future Can Be Bright

In conclusion, look at your current client base and try to distinguish yourself even more to be a candidate in demand in 2023.  Our suggestion to candidates that are reaching out to us for career advice is this: start to think outside of the box as to the type of clients you can do business with, then execute accordingly.  Should you then want to move your practice to other public finance firms, you will be in even more demand, and we would love to help you with your career transitions.


If you would like to discuss your options, please reach out for a confidential conversation at 760-477-1284 or email at [email protected]. He can also be reached on LinkedIn. Harlan publishes a blog every Thursday here. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here, which is a compilation of our weekly blogs, so you never miss one. You can find our listing in the “supplier and services” section of the Red Book under the title of “executive recruiting.”

About Harlan Friedman, JD & Founding Member, H. Friedman Search LLC. Harlan is a thirty-year veteran Public Finance Banker turned recruiter who specializes in the placement of all levels Public Finance Bankers, Healthcare Bankers, Municipal Advisors, Compliance Officers, Issuers, and Bond Counsels.