Abigail Urtz, FHN Financial | Next 2021

Senior vice president of credit for municipal and corporate bonds

Abigail Urtz started working for FHN Financial just as the 2008 financial crisis hit and the municipal bond market began to unravel.

The collapse of the monoline insurance companies left many bonds worthless, and some banks were unaware they were suddenly holding very low-rated debt, even, in some cases, below investment-grade.

“Banks were at a loss at how to understand muni credit — the thousands of issuers, the idiosyncratic nature of the muni market,” Urtz said.

So when the Dodd-Frank Act required banks to look past the ratings to evaluate their municipal securities and other investments, Urtz saw an opportunity to help.

Drawing on her skill in advanced database management and her deep understanding of this market, Urtz spearheaded the development of a proprietary ranking system for municipal credit. The system she designed was subsequently used as a template for a similar one that FHN’s credit strategies group developed for corporate bonds.

The initiative has yielded enduring brand loyalty for FHN, a division of First Horizon Bank that has an average daily trading volume of $5 billion and works with 4,700 institutional clients globally, including about half of all U.S. banks.

That early success led to Urtz’s involvement in a series of other high-profile initiatives in the years since. She now leads the Digital Engagement Project, which FHN describes as a strategic component in its future.

The project includes the comprehensive redesign of the primary website for its fixed-income dealer. Used by thousands of financial institutions as a primary source for economic updates and real-time portfolio analysis, the site is also an essential tool for FHN employees handling the investment needs of clients.

“It is the largest infrastructure redesign at the firm in more than 15 years,” said Jim Vogel, manager of the interest rate strategies group and Urtz’s boss.

Historically, the website served as a repository for documents and PDF reports, but none of it was dynamic. Urtz wants to change that.

“We want to make it a more interactive and engaging site where people can slice and dice the data as a value-add for their business,” she said.

Under Urtz’s leadership, a key piece of the project, the inventory management system, was ready in November, and the final phase is on track to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Technology aside, Urtz said the human element still matters in the industry, so much so that she considers authenticity to be the most important leadership quality. It is key to building crucial connections with people, she said.

“I’ve believed in this quality for many years, but I’ve never felt its importance more than I do now,” she said. “When things are changing and the future feels uncertain, people want to follow a leader with values and a story they believe in.”

Nominating executive: Jim Vogel, executive vice president and manager of the interest rate strategies group

What he said: “Initiative, boldness, diplomacy and a zeal to pioneer difficult projects are woven into her personality. After only 12 years with the company, her ability to understand, problem solve and successfully achieve goals surpasses others with twice as much experience,” Vogel said.

“Abby’s personality, drive, style, talent and capabilities position her for continued growth and advancement at First Horizon and make her an ideal candidate for C-suite,” he added.

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