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The Firms Vying for Global Research Dominance

As the sell-side grapples with industry-changing regulations, a new provider breaks into II’s top three Global Research Leaders.

At least one investment bank was actively seeking to add sell-side analysts as competitors battened down the hatches in preparation for the coming regulatory storm of Europe’s second Markets in Financial Instruments Directive. 

Under global head of research Andrew Pitt, Citigroup was building up its equity research division, adding stock coverage in growing markets such as China and maintaining headcounts where other firms were downsizing.

“We made the decision to strengthen the platform going into MiFID,” Pitt said. “We were probably one of the only firms that was actively stabilizing and building our research business.”

The belief that the top three global providers would be at an advantage when MiFID II came into play drove this decision. Pitt and Citi believed that clients would be most willing to spend their newly isolated research budgets on firms that could serve as a one-stop shop for consistent, high-quality insights into every industry sector and geographic region.

“We had a conscious target to be a top-three provider,” Pitt said.

By at least one measure, Citi succeeded. The New York-based bank has risen to third place overall in Institutional Investor’s 2018 ranking of the Global Research Leaders, based on its total number of equity and fixed-income analysts ranked by II globally.

The third-place finish continues an upward trajectory begun in 2015, when Citi placed eighth globally. This year, the bank claimed 165 positions on II research teams, up from 144 last year. The two firms ranking ahead of Citi — first-place JPMorgan Chase & Co. and No. 2 Bank of America Merrill Lynch — lost five and twelve team positions, respectively.

Meanwhile, former No. 3 UBS gave up two team positions, with its total number of II-ranked analysts falling from 166 to 164.

“If you look at the footprint, we are just in a much stronger position,” Pitt said. “We are genuinely gaining share, but some of our competitors are losing share because of divestment.”

Despite its new foothold in II’s top-three firms, Citi still trails well behind first-place JPMorgan, which nabbed 215 team positions across the ten rankings which combine to form the Global Research Leaders: the All-America Research Team; All-America Fixed-Income Research Team; All-Asia Research Team; All-Brazil Research Team; All-China Research Team; All-Europe Research Team; All-Europe Fixed-Income Research Team; All-Japan Research Team; Emerging Europe, Middle East & Africa Research Team; and Latin America Research Team.

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“We remain very committed to having a complete global model with breadth,” said Joyce Chang, the JPMorgan’s global head of research. “We have more than 900 researchers in 26 locations and we have been committed to a complete model that is comprehensive.”

JPMorgan’s continued dominant position is supported partly by its strong showing in bond research, where it is the leading provider. This year, JPMorgan’s fixed-income analysts earned 80 team positions, up from 77 last year.

Citi, meanwhile, earned 38 fixed-income research team positions to place fourth – improving from last year’s fifth-place position despite the fact that, as Pitt noted, Citi has no publishing analysts focused on investment-grade credit.

Citi also placed fourth in equity research, a category led for the second year in a row by UBS. Like Citi, the Swiss bank had actively invested in its research department in the years preceding MiFID II. Unlike Citi, UBS was focused primarily on data-driven research, resulting in the creation and rapid growth of its Evidence Lab — a division harnessing data and subject-matter experts.

“On one hand we’ve got some of the world’s best analysts on the platform, and at the same time we have some of the world’s most experienced data specialists — and that’s the secret sauce,” said Barry Hurewitz, global head of Evidence Lab innovations.

Other firms, including JPMorgan and Citi, have also recognized the need to invest in data science and advanced tools such as artificial intelligence. JPMorgan’s Chang noted that the firm made 13 hires this year in the area of big data and AI research, and was continuing to invest in its data science strategy broadly. Meanwhile Pitt said Citi’s research group has built a “substantial” data science team, supplemented by the larger bank’s innovation lab.

He emphasized, however, that theirs was still very much a “people business,” with a focus on analysts over analytics.

“There are plenty of non-bank companies that will execute data analytics as well if not better than bank research departments,” he said. “So we need to be mindful of where we add value.”

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