More than a year after corporate access went virtual in Asia, the region’s top providers are finding some unexpected silver linings for both corporates and investors.
“Corporate access has now become a virtual offering with delivery channels either via phone or enterprise video,” said Dennis Zhang, head of Asia corporate access at Morgan Stanley. “The corporates have benefitted from the reduced travel. The investors have benefited from greater supply, variety and easier access.”
Both corporate management and investors were quick to adapt, according to Vivian Lee, head of APAC corporate access at UBS. “We saw a big surge in meeting up-take,” she said. “Investors were able to access not just regional companies but also global conferences at their own locations. Corporate access has become even more competitive under the virtual environment.”
It was also a competitive year for the firms themselves, according to the results of Institutional Investor’s 2021 ranking of Asia’s Top Corporate Access Providers. Morgan Stanley, bumped down to second place last year, reclaimed the crown in this year’s survey. UBS claimed second place, while last year’s winner JPMorgan Chase & Co. took third. Citi and BofA Securities ranked fourth and fifth, respectively.
Nearly 700 investors at more than 400 firms were asked to provide feedback on firms that provided the best corporate access based on a number of attributes including conferences, logistics, team quality, and virtual events. Morgan Stanley scored the highest in each of these attributes as well.
“The old adage persists: differentiated, unique access through a high-quality corporate and expert speaker line-up,” Morgan Stanley’s Zhang said. “We don’t think the virtual aspect will go away post-pandemic as both buy-side and sell-side see value in the virtual format.”
Respondents’ votes were weighted by their Asia (ex-Japan) commission spend. The survey covered 15 markets: Australia/New Zealand, China, Europe, Frontier Markets, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, North America, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.
An additional leaderboard was calculated based on assets under management, and it nearly mirrored the commission-based results: Morgan Stanley was No. 1, but Citi and JPMorgan swapped places to rank third and fourth, respectively.
Even before Covid-19, UBS was focused on digitalizing its content, starting in 2018 when the firm’s corporate access sales teams would conduct video interviews with corporate C-suites on their strategy outlook. “Since Covid, we further enriched our content offering by hosting more expert speakers, on-the-ground virtual tours and hybrid events,” Lee said. “We are constantly reinventing and upgrading the user experience for our digitalized conferences.”
The firm is also leveraging its 15 years of ESG research to “incorporate ESG tracks in our country conferences in addition to standalone ESG events,” according to Lee. “We believe hybrid events and differentiated content are here to stay.”
There is a fear of corporate access and meetings being increasingly commoditized with the buy side being inundated with multiple conference offers a week, according to Yee. To innovate and differentiate the offering, UBS thought outside the box — or more aptly, car.
“We also hosted our first hybrid electric vehicle ‘tear down’ in Shanghai with auto parts flown in from Germany, with a round table discussion with leaders among the [electric vehicle] supply chain,” Lee said. “Our auto analyst hosted the event physically in Shanghai with our domestic clients and at the same time streamed online for our global clients.”
After more than a year of virtual events, UBS is seeing an uptick in demand for in-person events like these, but the hybrid model will persist due to quarantine and travel restrictions. “Body languages and on-the-ground site tours are hard to be replaced with technology,” she added.
Morgan Stanley’s Zhang echoed the sentiment: “We believe the world will remain largely virtual this year when it comes to corporate access, differentiated through high-quality content, timely access and ease-of-use.”
An additional top-ten leaderboard was also created to capture the corporate point of view. More than 160 respondents voted for both sell-side and third-party providers based on five attributes: conferences, feedback, investor introductions, non-deal roadshows and site visits. Morgan Stanley topped this ranking as well, followed by Citi in second and CLSA in third. Credit Suisse took fourth and UBS rounded out the top five.