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How Asia’s Top Corporate Access Providers Went Virtual

Firms that adapted quickly were rewarded in II’s 2020 ranking of the best access providers.

When Covid-19 sent China — and then the rest of Asia — into lockdown, JPMorgan Chase & Co. was one of the first to make the switch to virtual corporate access.

“I believe we probably held the first virtual event globally,” said Ryan Holsheimer, the bank’s Asia Pacific head of cash equities and equity distribution. “We had a conference in Shenzhen in February, right as things were starting to get cancelled and travel plans were thrown into disarray. We quickly moved the conference from physical to virtual, and we had 200 investors attend that virtually.”

Since then, everything has gone virtual — a new normal that Holsheimer and other corporate access leaders expect to last at least through the end of this year, if not longer. According to Holsheimer, JPMorgan has moved all of its conferences for the rest of the year online, while adding conference calls and other virtual meetings to meet a surge in demand from investors who are tuning in by the thousands.

This readiness to quickly adapt seems to be paying off: Investors ranked JPMorgan as the No. 1 firm in Institutional Investor’s 2020 ranking of Asia’s Top Corporate Access Providers, knocking long-time corporate access leader Morgan Stanley down to second place. It’s a big step up for JPMorgan, which last year ranked fifth among buy-side voters.

“In times of challenge and crisis, when there’s a lot going on, people turn to their critical relationships,” Holsheimer said. “So in an environment like the one we’ve had, JPMorgan is that organization that clients turn to for our global reach and our connectivity to the corporate world.”

Nearly 600 investors voted to determine this year’s top corporate access providers. Like last year, votes were weighted based on how much respondents paid in sell-side commissions. 

A second leaderboard was produced by weighting buy-side votes by assets under management. In this ranking, Morgan Stanley placed first, followed by JPMorgan in second.

[II Deep Dive: How Investors Get Access in Asia]

Like JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley was able to quickly transition to virtual events, starting with the firm’s annual Hong Kong summit in March. “It’s easy to forget how radical the decision to deliver [that event] virtually… was seen at the time,” said Mehdee Reza, the firm’s Asia-Pacific head of equity distribution. “Now in June, only three months past that audacious first virtual effort, we have just completed five virtual events in one month.”

These efforts have not gone unnoticed by Asia’s corporate leaders, who voted for Morgan Stanley as their No. 1 corporate access provider. Citigroup ranked second from the corporate point-of-view, while Credit Suisse placed third.

“We anticipated that virtual would be a scalable, versatile, convenient delivery tool that could be mimicked across our regional and global equity businesses,” Reza said. “We also anticipated a reach into new client segments and geographies. We just didn’t anticipate how significant that demand could be.”

Looking forward, both Holsheimer and Reza expected to see virtual events become a mainstay of the corporate access business, even after business travel has resumed. Still, neither believe that videoconferencing can entirely replace face-to-face interaction.

“Whilst virtual is clearly here to stay, the importance of physical interaction has not been undermined,” Reza said. “The diligence and fiduciary obligations for most managers means that virtual can only be part of a bundled delivery of access.”

In the meantime, however, both firms are focusing on providing the access that investors want in whatever format they may need.

“Corporate access has become an even more important aspect of how we add value for clients,” Holsheimer said. “We’re going to continue to build on that with more conferences and meetings. This will be an area we continue to invest in.”

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