When it comes to making investment decisions in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets, investors want the real thing.
“In emerging markets, the human touch as ever is very important to have the pulse of the markets and, ultimately, make more informed decisions,” said Camille Asmar, head of equity sales for CEEMEA at HSBC. “You have to walk around the streets of Istanbul and Johannesburg or go to Riyadh and see exactly what is happening on the ground, how the population is behaving and thinking.”
For much of the past 18 months, as the world grappled with Covid-19, this due diligence by investors was rendered nearly impossible due to lockdowns causing business travel to cease. But fortunately, the top equity sales and corporate access providers in the regions were there to step up.
Corporate access providers reported quickly pivoting to delivering virtual conferences and roadshows to help bridge the gap between corporates and their clients, while sales teams said they worked to transform their business to add value to research in a largely work-from-home environment.
“Essentially our roles as sales people evolve all the time so change is very normal for us,” said Dina Geha, global head of distribution for Exane BNP Paribas. “Whether we’re in the office, our home, or in a client’s office, our job is first and foremost to make sure that our clients are getting the best service possible.”
While the method of delivering content and generating ideas has evolved a lot during the pandemic, Geha reports that her team has adapted just as quickly and continues to do so. “The most important thing is that the quality of relationships remains very strong and that’s what we focus on. I think it almost goes without saying that we all prefer face-to-face contact, but when that’s not possible we can still make it work through other channels. And we’ve learned a lot during this period, and then we want to be able to retain some of that flexibility in the future.”
All this may explain why Exane BNP Paribas has once again placed first in Institutional Investor’s 2020 All-Europe Sales Team, as well as topping this year’s ranking of Europe’s Top Corporate Access Providers.
Morgan Stanley followed second in European equity sales, followed by BofA Securities in third. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and UBS placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Results were weighted by how much survey respondents spent in regional equity commissions.
In the European corporate access ranking, Kepler Cheuvreux placed second. BofA Securities was third and JPMorgan, fourth. Morgan Stanley rounded out the top five.
In the emerging markets, HSBC was once again lauded for its ability to deliver in developing markets, placing first in II’s Emerging EMEA Sales Team and the Emerging EMEA Top Corporate Access Providers.
Asmar credited his team globally — made up of people who have worked together for more than a decade — for his firm’s high performance, high intensity, and commitment to client relationships throughout the pandemic. “We had to adapt our services and offering to our clients and customers, from innovative and standout research to new equity products and ways of broking,” he said.
Investors are asking the firm when its next conferences and on-the-ground visits will be as each country and jurisdiction begins transfers back to the office. “You can feel a sense of frustration from investors about the need to go back to a physical world,” Asmar said. “Given the nature of emerging markets — knowing how volatile and unpredictable they can be sometimes and how quickly they can fluctuate — there is a need to meet physically again.”
JPMorgan, which placed second in emerging EMEA equity sales and third in corporate access, likewise predicts that a hybrid strategy for client interactions will continue to be necessary. The firm’s own sales and corporate access teams have already started to adopt the same, with a mix of in-person and virtual interactions.
“With restrictions on travel, the value of experienced local specialists increased as this ‘on-the-ground’ insight was something investors found harder to garner themselves over Zoom,” said Gabby Palmer, head of international cash EMEA equity sales at JPMorgan. “Whilst we hope the world will continue to reopen to in-person events and meetings, we believe travel budgets may be structurally lower and so the value of this local presence is here to stay.”
Connectivity is the key goal of both investors and corporates, and technology has supported a significant pick up in interactions, according to Palmer. “There has been a greater ability to leverage our global platform and scale events as they have moved online but there has also been a demand for more bespoke access with c-suite management,” she added. “We have also noticed an increase in interest for expert and thematic access, which investors sometimes find harder to connect to themselves.” The events have evolved to offer more one-on-one and small meetings, in conjunction with more thematic seminars and expert speaker series.
The needs of corporates and investors are actually not too far apart, according to Hannah Pead, co-head of corporate access for Exane BNP Paribas. “Our job is to bridge that gap especially for access, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” she said. “Each corporate and investor has their own specific needs and we work with them all.” Technology helped throughout much of the last year, but no matter the medium, communication is what counts.
“We have to pay real attention to their objectives and deliver solutions that work for all of them,” Pead said. “We work hard to build a constructive and honest dialogue between the two.”
Going forward, there is an opportunity for further transformation of the corporate access industry, according to Pead. “It is going to be a period of real innovation for corporate access,” she said. “We went straight from the old model to a 100 percent virtual setup due to the pandemic. But corporates and investors now have genuine choices about how to interact and we have to be able to deliver. When we think about organizing these events in the future, it’s a great opportunity to balance the warmth of personal interactions and the efficiency of digital.”