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There’s a New Leader in Japan Sales

In a year dominated by a recession and a global pandemic, SMBC Nikko Securities jumped to the top of Institutional Investor’s All-Japan Sales Team.

After a tumultuous year, Japan’s top equity sales firms have been upended, with a new winner emerging in Institutional Investor’s 2021 All-Japan Sales Team.

SMBC Nikko Securities captured the No. 1 spot in the tenth annual ranking of Japanese sales teams, improving from third place in 2020. The Tokyo-based bank’s jump to the top of the leaderboard came after a year that saw Japan slip into its first recession since 2015 while also battling a global pandemic. 

It was also a year in which investors clearly favored the local view. As in this year’s All-Japan Research Team, the more than 300 buy-side money managers who voted for the top sales teams gave preference a group of domestic providers.

Second place went to Mizuho Securities, which improved on last year’s fourth place finish. Daiwa Securities slipped one spot to third, while Nomura’s three-year reign at No. 1 ended with the firm in fourth place this year. JPMorgan Chase & Co. repeated its fifth place finish as the only international firm to crack the top five.

Results were weighted based on the size of each respondent’s commission spending. The participants were asked to rank their top overall sales firms as well as rate their performance across six attributes, which included adding value to research, generating ideas, and understanding client needs. 

Sales teams were also rewarded for their ability to provide a global context to their research offerings, which may have actually been made easier when the working world went virtual last March during the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Trevor Hill, global head of equity at SMBC Nikko.

“Improved, on-demand, access to Japan from international investors is a silver lining of this crisis,” Hill said. “What used to require flights and jet lag is now being accomplished from [the] relative comfort of one’s own work-from-home office-home. This will likely shift back to a more equal balance of online vs. in-person, but with Japan being a lot like the ‘rest of the world’ rather than the historical outlier that it has often been.” 

Daisuke Suzuki, head of APAC equity sales and corporate access at Mizuho Securities, echoed this sentiment. “The fundamental role of sales remains the same: to differentiate our product by generating ideas and customizing customer service,” Suzuki said. “But our workflow and habits have [been] changed by the use of IT and shift towards working from home. Even with more people getting vaccinated, this behavioral shift will continue and people will use Zoom, Webex, etc. to communicate with clients, companies, analysts, and colleagues. This is a big structural change for Japan and will improve productivity.”

As this shift occurs, Suzuki said he is keen to see if it is the catalyst for the buy side to embrace quantity over quality from the sell side. “While the number of meetings taken by investors has actually gone up with the move to online formats rather than face-to-face meetings or physical seminars, we think there has been too much competition to chase volume and this may change from here as people try to use their time more efficiently,” he said. 

[II Deep Dive: How Top Sales Teams Adapt in a Crisis]

Suzuki argued that a top salesperson should be a good “filter” for investors, who are swamped with too much information. “A salesperson who can sort the information relevant to each customer based on their preferences can differentiate himself or herself from others,” he added. “That is not an easy skill to build up — it requires a high level of understanding of the stock market, various industries, and individual stocks. Most importantly, what makes a top salesperson is the ability to cultivate good relationships with investors and thoroughly understand their preferences.”

For first-place SMBC Nikko, Hill said an important competitive advantage is an empowered salesforce that can leverage the “broad scope of our Japan Inc. connectivity.” 

“As the only legacy ‘Big Three’ Japan broker that is also part of a Japan mega-bank group, we bring a lot to the table,” he said. “We will continue to position ourselves as the ‘Japan Experts.’  We think that Japan-dedicated and regional or global or sector generalist investors will all continue to need such experts as part of their investing dialogue. That strategy naturally exposes us to the degree to which Japan is at the forefront of investors’ minds. Given the exciting changes going on both bottom up and top down in the Japanese equity markets, that is a risk we are happy to take.” 

In addition to the main results, II also produced a leaderboard in which votes were weighted based on assets under management. In this AUM-based ranking, Daiwa Securities Group took first, followed by Nomura in second and SMBC Nikko Securities in third. Mizuho Securities placed fourth while Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Co. rounded out the top five. 

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