It was another rollercoaster year in the equity markets. Investors wanted just one thing from sell-side research in 2021: more.
“There was a lot going on in the world, and the buy side continues to want more and more content and more time [with analysts] than ever before,” said Dan Dowd, global head of investment bank research at UBS. He expressed surprise in a recent call that client consumption of research and interactions with equity analysts could still be up from the heights seen during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
This was in part due to a challenging year with many highly speculative corners of the markets, which defied conventional metrics, according to Marko Kolanovic, chief global market strategist and co-head of global research for JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Whether it was SPACs, IPOs, meme stocks, or cryptocurrencies with no use case, these bubbly pockets of the market drew a lot of attention,” he said.
JPMorgan reported that its research content output grew commensurately with its stocks under coverage as client demands evolved for more global, thematic, and cross-asset research. And in 2021, they wanted that research delivered to them quicker than ever.
“Increasingly clients want real-time access to analysts to discuss their specific questions — right here, right now,” said Hussein Malik, co-head of global research for JPMorgan. “They do not want scheduled conversations or marketing events weeks in the future. Clients ultimately want to be directly plugged into our internal and external community of experts and insights on a real-time basis.”
This all was delivered within a hybrid environment for sell-side research as both clients and providers’ own employees continued working from home due to several new Covid variants over the past year. But despite — or maybe because of this — Kolanovic said, “In many ways we became closer to clients.”
The feeling is mutual: Clients elevated JPMorgan to the No. 1 spot in Institutional Investor’s 2021 ranking of the world’s top equity research providers. The bank toppled four-year incumbent UBS with a total of 164 team positions for stock coverage across the U.S., developed Europe, Latin America, Asia, China, Japan, and the emerging markets of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. JPMorgan also placed first in II’s overall ranking of the Global Research Leaders, which included fixed income coverage.
After two turbulent years, what do clients want in a top equity research provider? “Strong fundamental analysis, diligent service, solid corporate access, and unique industry and market insights — these are the foundations of a strong equity research franchise and what clients expect of us,” Malik said. “Clients can expect a single-minded devotion to achieve the best results, and we are committed to this for the long haul.”
JPMorgan’s triumph in 2021 meant UBS was bumped down to second place. But with the UBS earning 158 team positions, a slim margin of only six spots separated the two leaders.
BofA Securities placed third in the global equity research ranking, while Morgan Stanley improved one spot to take fourth. Citi rounded out the top five.
In the competitive global research space, Dowd believes success is no longer just about deep industry expertise and the skillset to collect information and turn that into recommendations for clients. The future will be data-driven and UBS continues to build its offering around its Evidence Lab and team of data scientists.
“We have moved to a world where the analysts have all of the skill sets that they’ve always had, but now you have to have an organization like Evidence Lab, which has deep expertise in how to collect primary data and the technology system to deliver it to the publishing analyst in a form that they can use, coupled with the analysts’ ability to advise clients as well,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the core differentiator for us over the next several years.”
The buy side is also using more and more alternative data sources. Turning that into actionable information will be key for research firms in the future. “It’s not just, ‘We think you should invest in this stock or not,’ but we can also help them get the most information out of all of the data sources they are using,” Dowd said.
JPMorgan has also seen the evolution of client consumption over the past year. “Thought leadership and actionable insights within their investment remit continues to be the key ask of clients,” said Malik. “That said, the methods through which that can be achieved and delivered continue to evolve, be that the broader use of data, leveraging interesting access, or thinking more creatively around content delivery. One unifying goal is to boost client interactivity with our research, with the end result being advice that is compelling enough to be acted upon.”
At UBS this has meant more Q series reports — longer format publications that address issues that are likely to cover several years — on topics unrelated to the pandemic. “We had more Q series reports this year than we’ve ever had before,” Dowd said. These included the tear down of an electric vehicle and its batteries, a detailed look at space tourism, and another one on Chinese female empowerment and how it will drive growth in China. “So we are actually spending a great deal of time on things that are of critical importance to our clients over the medium term, and that aren’t specific to Covid,” he said.