How I Got Here: Cristina Jennings (MSF ’16)

The Kellstadt alumna discusses her career in structured finance and how owning your professional development can help you blaze your path

Cristina Jennings (MSF ’16)

In this series, Kellstadt alumni share how they got to where they are today in their careers. Our next spotlight is Cristina Jennings, who graduated with a Master of Science in Finance from Kellstadt in 2016. Today, Cristina works at Fitch Ratings as a director in their structured credit department. She lives in Chicago.

As a director in structured credit… 

My primary role is to analyze new-issue collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) backed by broadly syndicated and/or middle market loan collateral. CLOs are a type of Structure Finance product. In other words, my primary job function is to issue credit ratings that provide an indication of a fixed income investments’ (for instance, a CLOs) ability to meet its financial commitments (such as interest and principal payments). I provide investors with an assessment of relative risk.

I present my rating recommendations to a committee and publish presale reports for market participants. The reports explain Fitch’s credit view and identify any provisions in the CLO’s governing documents that may present a risk to investors.

What I like best about my job…

We work in a pretty fast-paced environment, which I love because there is always something to do and I feel like I’m constantly learning something new and expanding my knowledge base. Fitch has a collegial atmosphere, which is something that is extremely important to me; it’s one of the reasons I have stayed with the company for the past 11 years.

Biggest challenge of my job…

While I do love a fast-paced environment, it can become difficult at times when you are working on many transactions simultaneously. However, we all work as a team and have a good system in place to get through periods when we have a heavy workload.

How I got here…

The first exposure I had to securitizations was when I was interning at an insurance company during my undergrad. I spent most of my time analyzing residential collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs). These are another type of fixed income investment. It was during the heart of the financial crisis and was truly a crash course in the world of securitizations. That experience landed me a job at Fitch Ratings in their Structured Credit department.

I did not expect to end up where I am today. At the time, Structured Finance was not a subject commonly covered in school; however, the internship I had really taught me a lot about the sector, especially during such a volatile time. It has been fascinating to see the evolution of the market over the last decade.

Things I did to help me get here…

I have always taken the initiative to volunteer for projects/assignments that I knew would strengthen my analytical skills and expand my knowledge base. I invested my time in becoming a subject matter expert in CLOs, and my efforts were clearly recognized and appreciated at work. The Master of Science in Finance program at Kellstadt also strengthened my analytical skills, which helped me become successful in my career.

Fitch is a corporate member of the Women’s Bond Club, a global organization for women in financial services, and in 2018 I was selected to participate in their rising star program, which included coaching sessions designed to help me develop my own leadership style. Being selected for this program was a turning point in my career. I was just beginning to assume management responsibilities and participating in a coaching program of that caliber really helped refine my management skills.

The Kellstadt course that has helped me the most in my career…

The money and capital markets course I took with Professor Lamont Black was incredibly beneficial, especially as I was working full-time while in the master’s program. The applied concepts we used to determine the operations of the money and capital markets are tools that I still use to this day.

Advice for Kellstadt students interested in my career… 

The best advice I can give is to find a mentor in the field who can provide guidance and talk to you about various career paths in structured finance and/or a rating agency. Also, if there is a particular area of structured finance that interests you, then take the initiative to learn as much as you can about that sector. Do some research to see if there are any webinars or conferences you can attend to begin networking with people in the industry.

Read the other spotlights in this series:

Mike Mercado (MBA ’16), senior manager of product strategy for Discover Bank, shares insights from his career journey in business strategy and the importance of following your curiosity.

Tommy Lubinski (BUS ’09, MST ’11, MBA ’15), product manager for adidas Basketball, talks about how he landed his dream job working in the sports apparel and footwear industry.

Angela Yang (MBA ’19), strategic analytics supervisor for FCB Chicago, describes how she transitioned from a career in advertising to healthcare strategy.


Posted on

October 26, 2021