Bank of America Merrill Lynch Has Asia’s Top Sales Team

Bank of America Merrill Lynch adds the inaugural Institutional Investor’s All-Asia Sales Team to its All-Asia Research Team win.

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch leads the lineup in Institutional Investor’s inaugural All-Asia Sales Team. UBS lands in second place, followed by CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in third. Rounding out the top five are Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan, in fourth and fifth place, respectively. “BofA has one of the best corporate-access platforms — the sales team does a great job of keeping relevant companies in front of key investors,” declares one U.S.-based money manager.

We asked participants in this year’s All-Asia Research Team survey to tell us which firms field the best sales forces in the region. Roughly 2,430 buy-side analysts and money managers at some 870 firms that collectively manage approximately $1.57 trillion in Asia ex-Japan equity assets responded; that’s about 74 percent of the people who cast votes in the broader research team survey, representing 89 percent of the participating buy-side institutions. The names of those surveyed and the firms they work for are kept confidential to ensure their continuing cooperation.

Richard Boseley, BofA Merrill’s head of Asia-Pacific equity sales, directs the winning team from Hong Kong. It consists of 100 research salespeople working out of offices across Asia (Hong Kong, Mumbai, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei), Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), Europe (London) and the U.S. (New York and San Francisco).

“The buy side has always placed a premium on ideas, access and execution, but clients today are increasingly seeking expertise in these three disciplines across all forms of equity products and within a global macro framework,” Boseley explains. “As such, the ability to differentiate requires a strong understanding of each client’s investment process to tailor service and resource allocation to them specifically.”

That’s an area in which BofA Merrill excels, according to one Hong Kong–based backer. “I appreciate the fact that they don’t overwhelm me with material I’m not interested in and can’t use,” this investor says. “What they send is meaningful. They’re also very quick to respond to any requests I have.”

Adds another: “I like their global approach. What happens in Brazil or Europe or the U.S. impacts Asian markets, and the BofA team is very good at connecting the dots.”

That’s all part of the bank’s strategy, Boseley says. “The structure of our platform is uniquely client-focused and fully integrated across equity products and other asset classes, and this enables us to position the breadth of our global capabilities to our clients and to provide expertise across the investment spectrum,” he explains. “This has been critical during the current macro-driven market environment. We have actively strived to put Asia within a global context and bring the best of global to our Asian clients.”

Money managers say the firm differentiates itself in other ways too. “Dominic Penton and Constance Wong are two of the most seasoned professionals in the business,” declares one fan. “More and more, experience counts — but less and less are sell-side firms able to supply it.”

The UBS sales squad “is great at satisfying clients’ needs, especially when compared to other ‘top tier’ brokers,” says one fund manager. “We understand that we might not be in the highest tier among their clients. Nevertheless, we constantly feel that the sales team will follow our requests, and call us with updates and to arrange meetings — even after deadlines.”

That’s very different from the way other firms treated this customer. “Some brokers will deny us access to phone calls with their analysts — they’ve even asked us to increase their commission allocation before calling!” he adds.

A commitment to full service is something that UBS has retained even when many of its rivals have been scaling back, observes Shane Gunther, head of Asian equity sales. “We have a strong on-the-ground sales presence in all markets across Asia, including [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” says Gunther, who is headquartered in Hong Kong. “Some of our competitors have closed down offices, or operate a diluted product through minority-held, joint-venture companies in some markets. We also have a unique onshore domestic business in China, which gives us an edge when talking to clients about China and the A-share market.”

There are 65 Asia research salespeople on the UBS team, and they are based in mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S. “We feel that our domestic footprint across Asia gives us a competitive advantage in building local relationships and offering best-in-class expert access,” Gunther adds.

Clients agree. “UBS has a good combination of regional sales and country specialists, which works for us because we are smaller-cap-focused,” says one. “UBS research is improving, and its salespeople are capable of highlighting the parts of greater interest to me — they make an efficient use of my time.” This money manager especially praises Robby Goh on the Philippines (“excellent”) and Keng Hock (Jonathan) Lim on Asean (“an ex-analyst, so he adds real value”).

Matthew Chapin, says another fund manager, “helps us pick stocks and filters value-added information. He’s a go-to salesperson when I need information quickly and delivered efficiently.”

One U.S.-based investor applauds the efforts of Stephen Beecroft, who is “extremely knowledgeable across a wide range of countries and industries. I can always count on Steve for articulate arguments in presenting investment ideas. He also writes very insightful sales notes that go far beyond repackaging analysts’ work.”

UBS encourages its salespeople to stand out from the crowd, Gunther explains. “Shrinking commission pools mean that clients are becoming more discriminating in the services they are prepared to pay for,” he says. “This steepening payment curve means that we are under constant pressure to provide differentiated, value-added service.” It’s not just white-glove service that sets UBS apart, according to one Singapore-based money manager. “The UBS people have integrity — that’s important in a house active in capital markets issuance. And they are pleasant to deal with in an industry where old-fashioned courtesies often get forgotten.”

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