It has been a year in which investors have needed the support of the sell side’s sales teams — and one firm has differentiated itself as the best in client service.
Morgan Stanley has definitively risen to the top of Institutional Investor’s 2020 All-America Sales Team, which recognizes the firms with the best sales professionals. This year the bank repeated its first-place finish in specialist sales and claimed No. 1 in the generalist sales category, bumping JPMorgan Chase & Co. into second place.
While much of last year was spent digesting regulation like the European Union’s updated markets in financial instruments directive — which unbundled research dollars from trading in January 2018, transforming client relationships — this year’s sales teams were focused on delivering the best possible service amid the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus.
“We as a sales organization have had to be even more disciplined around communication internally and externally with clients as a result of the global pandemic,” said Nick Savone, global head of institutional equities sales at Morgan Stanley. “We have had to be more nimble, flexible, and creative around packaging and delivering content to clients.”
As sudden bans on face-to-face meetings and events reverberated through the industry, research providers like Morgan Stanley were forced to get creative and leverage technology to engage with clients virtually. “A silver lining in this virtual world is we can bring more people together without the constraints of travel or regional time zones as most clients remain in [work-from-home] mode,” Savone said.
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Susan Riordan, head of Americas advisory sales at Bank of America, said her team has been continuously refining its approach to meet the needs of clients during the pandemic. “We were pivoting real-time from large CEO, CFO calls to smaller group calls with Q&A, to single stock debates, connecting investors to discuss and debate single stock ideas, and get single stock sentiment,” she said.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, Riordan said clients sometimes missed events because their inboxes were “blowing up with emails.” To mitigate this problem, BofA Securities created a daily virtual calendar organized by sector, containing all the analyst and executive calls, as well as other corporate access events. The firm then extended this system to its upcoming conference schedule.
“How we communicate with clients is always super important,” Riordan said. “Our aim is always to ensure a great client experience, but our one daily email really helped differentiate our platform.”
Now seven months into the pandemic, both Savone and Riordan are looking to a future where some face-to-face engagement resumes.
“The majority of meetings, calls, and conferences being delivered solely via a virtual model seems to be more cyclical given the challenges presented as a result of the global pandemic,” Savone said. “Clients yearn for more live engagement with corporates, with one another, and with their partners on the sell side. The value created both culturally and from shared intellectual capital remains much richer in live engagement.”
Nevertheless, Savone sees the industry eventually embracing a hybrid approach that provides both in-person and virtual engagement, which seems here to stay thanks convenience, safety, and efficiency.
Riordan likewise believes that 2021 presents an opportunity to continue to fine-tune the new operating model that was foisted upon sales teams — and the whole of the financial services industry — in March.
“The pandemic has taught us new ways of connecting and delivering content,” she said. “The need to personally connect will never change. Virtual connectivity has allowed us to scale, and for some clients to access corporate meetings, analyst meetings, and other resources, which due to logistics they were previously unable to attend. In 2021, we have the opportunity to build best practices around virtual meetings to support clients that cannot attend events or meet in person, while continuing to grow our overall client reach and breadth and depth of client service.”
The All-America Sales Team, now in its tenth year, is part of Institutional Investor’s wider All-America Research Team survey, where investors rank the top research providers. Directors of research and investment professionals at asset management firms with a research budget of at least $250,000 were invited to vote for the best generalist and specialist sales teams. These votes were then weighted by commission spending to produce a top-10 list for each category.
BofA Securities took third in the ranking of generalist sales teams, followed by UBS in fourth and RBC in fifth. In the specialist sales rankings, UBS placed second, repeating its 2019 position, while Jeffries greatly improved on last year’s seventh place finish to rank third this year. BofA placed fourth and Citi took fifth.
Two additional leaderboards were produced by weighting votes by assets under management instead of commissions. As in 2019, J.P. Morgan topped the generalist category, while Morgan Stanley also remained at No. 1 in specialist sales.