Perhaps the most important qualification for a technical consultant in public finance is his professional experience as an investment banker or financial adviser.

Firms seeking to retain a technical consultant should require that any prospective technical consultancy firm have on its staff one or more individuals with at least 10 years' experience as a banker or adviser to municipalities.

This will help ensure that the consultant possess the experience and maturity to deal effectively not only with the financial aspects of any assignment -- including the rating, distribution, and sale of tax-exempt securities -- but also with the political realities common to most municipal transactions.

Record of Service

Another important credential of a technical consultant is his record of service as a consultant to underwriters and financial advisers. How long has he been in business? On what types of transactions has he been engaged? In how many successful deals has he participated? How many references is he willing to provide?

It should be noted that some technical consultants do not provide complete listings of their cleints or the financings for which they have been retained. This is because some or all of their clients have retained them on the condition that they will not make known their relationship with these clients.

To honor this promise of confidentiality, the technical consultant cannot reveal the names of his clients or the transactions he has worked on. Accordingly, direct contact with references provided by a technical consultant may furnish the best indication of his record of service.

Responsiveness

Any technical consultant must be responsive to his clients and provide them with thorough, accurate service in a timely fashion. The consultant should be reachable on short notice and be able to respond to requests as they arise, for the circumstances surrounding a transaction may change suddenly, particularly during volatile markets.

While this may seem elementary or intuitive, the speed with which the consultant responds to a client's requests is crucial to his relationship with that client.

The client cannot work effectively unless he is completely confident that his technical consultant is readily available and has the necessary resources -- including support staff -- to respond to his needs no less quickly than the client could if he had the in-house personnel to respond to the same request.

When selecting a technical consultant, a visit to his offices is highly recommended to ensure that he does have the resources readily available to provide the requisite services.

Conflicts of Interest

From time to time, a technical consultant may be asked by more than one client to work on the same proposal.

Thus, it is important for the client to know the technical consultant's policy when situations like this arise, particularly if the consultant also serves other underwriters and financial advisers in the same geographic area.

The client also should have a clear understanding with the technical consultant as to how the consultant intends to protect the client's proprietary ideas, information, and work product.

Best Utilization

The single best way to utilize the services of a technical consultant is to treat him as if he was a member of the department and integrate him fully into each transaction for which he is retained.

It is important to bring him into each transaction at an early stage, provide him with sufficient background information, consult with him frequently, and keep him fully informed as to the progress of each transaction by providing him with copies of all relevant documents and time schedules.

It is also important to provide the consultant with sufficient time to complete his work thoroughly. All too frequently clients underestimate the time required by the consultant to complete his work, often expecting him to prepare solutions to complex financings on very short notice.

By affording the technical consultant sufficient time in which to analyze each request and complete the requisite analysis, the consultant is better able to provide each client with the uppermost level of his professional service.

Summary

Public finance managers seeking to reduce costs and increase efficiency can do both by periodically retaining the services of a technical consultant to prepare their intricate analytical reports.

The consultant, who is experienced in preparing such reports, can often prepare them more accurately, completely, and efficiently than his client -- and relieved of the necessity of having to prepare these reports, the client can concentrate his time and resources on other, more profitable, aspects of the business.

The technical consultant also provides valuable backup support in the event of work overloads or loss of personnel. Professional experience, record of service, and responsiveness to requests are the essential qualities to look for in selecting a technical consultant.

Clients can make the best use of the consultant by integrating him fully into each assignment, keeping him informed as to the progress of each transaction, and providing him with sufficient time to complete each task thoroughly.

Mr. Stone is president of Stanley P. Stone & Associates Inc., a firm that provides technical consulting services to municipal underwriters and financial advisers.

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