Investors Continue to Push for Direct Access to Management

JPMorgan Chase is No. 1 in II’s 2023 ranking of America’s Top Corporate Access providers.


Illustration by II

It seemed impossible that the appetite for corporate access — when sell-side firms connect investors with corporate executives – could exceed last year’s fever pitch.

But the higher levels of engagement that began during the Covid-19 pandemic and expanded over the past three years show no signs of abating. But the drivers behind the increase in 2023 have changed, according to the leading U.S. corporate access firms.

“Demand for access has grown from last year’s already elevated levels,” confirmed Charles Wardell, head of U.S. investor access at JPMorgan Chase. Demand was fueled in part by investors “wanting to hear first-hand how management teams are adapting to shifting macroeconomic conditions.”

Jennifer Fink, head of Americas corporate access at BofA Securities, said the firm has continued to see investor demand grow. She attributed this to “what felt like unlimited access during the pandemic and the fact that meeting with management teams has become increasingly more important in their investment decisions.”

Significant growth of the buy side also added to the hunger for corporate access. “More investment professionals were added, new funds were created by existing clients, and many notable new hedge funds launched,” Fink said. “We have been able to grow our business this year with an increase in investor participation across all our products. However, there are more mouths to feed with finite resources, which can often times be challenging.”

JPMorgan’s Wardell said the firm is focused on creating as many quality in-person interactions for its corporate and investor clients as possible. “We have re-imagined important elements of some of our flagship conferences and have added several new events to the roster,” he said.

Both buy-side investors and corporate professionals who voted in Institutional Investor’s annual ranking of America’s Top Corporate Access Providers see little room for improvement. They have once again elevated JPMorgan to the No. 1 spot in the survey.

More than 480 buy-side voters representing 225 firms rated up to seven firms in each of the seven categories, while more than 320 corporate voters ranked their top four firms across seven performance attributes. In the buy-side leaderboard, BofA Securities improved one spot to take second place this year. Morgan Stanley earned third. Jefferies and Goldman placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

After JPMorgan, Wells Fargo Securities was recognized as the runner-up, followed by Morgan Stanley in third, and BofA Securities in fourth. Citi rounded out the top five.

Striking the balance between investors and corporates can be a challenge, according to BofA’s Fink. “The key is to understand the corporate client objectives and still be able to get meetings or seats for your investor clients. We have a really seasoned corporate access team who is not afraid to have the conversations,” she said.

After corporate access pivoted to virtual in 2020, in-person events and interactions have returned. Providers reported that both executives and buy-side clients are still finding their footing when it comes to balancing virtual and in-person meetings.

“Timing is such an important part of creating valuable interactions,” said Wardell of JPMorgan. “Virtual tools let us respond rapidly. New virtual formats and technologies coming over the next few years will be an excellent complement to in-person meetings too.”

Wardell credited working closely with JPMorgan U.S. Equity Research (which was No. 2 overall in this year’s All-America Research Team survey). “We depend on their insights and connectedness,” he said. “Our team is propelled by their creativity, and our collaboration has led to successful new events like the J.P. Morgan Equity Opportunities Forum, a best ideas conference across sectors.” The conference will be held in Miami in November.

Fink of BofA also said her firm’s research division, which topped the AART survey this year, is a differentiator. BofA has returned to all in-person corporate-related events.

“Both investors and corporates have reiterated the importance and value of in-person meetings, and we are happy to deliver that,” she said.