It could be argued that nearly every industry and occupation had to be nimble during the global pandemic. But corporate access — the business of connecting investors with corporate executives — had an especially hard pivot from face-to-face events to the virtual world.
That began to turn around last year with the re-emergence of in-person conferences to levels not seen since 2020, according to top providers in the U.S., who all reported a plethora of marquee events as well as smaller meetings.
This isn’t to say demand for corporate access ever waned. In fact, it was the opposite as investors wanted more information, and providers reported higher levels of engagement since the start of 2020.
“The surge in demand for corporate access that began in 2020 continued in 2022,” said Charles Wardell, head of U.S. investor access for JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Across all formats, investor and management participation in JPMorgan’s corporate access offerings remained extremely strong, and this year demand for in-person events was the primary focus.”
At JPMorgan, this includes its 2023 healthcare conference, an annual event that is known to attract more than 9,000 attendees and connected global industry leaders, emerging fast-growth companies, innovative technology creators and members of the investment community. Despite a planned comeback, the firm plans to leverage the hybrid model to supplement its offerings.
“Virtual offerings will continue to be an important channel to augment in-person access, and we are actively working on new technologies that will further expand our capabilities and bring new and exciting ways for investors and corporates to come together,” Wardell said.
Both buy-side investors and corporate professionals have voted JPMorgan No. 1 in Institutional Investor’s 2022 ranking of America’s Top Corporate Access Providers.
The firm ranked first in two separate top-10 leaderboards, one based on the opinions of buy-side money managers, and one based on the corporate point-of-view.
Morgan Stanley placed second on the buy-side ranking and was ranked third by corporate respondents. The firm, which held its flagship U.S. TMT and healthcare conferences in person for the first time since 2020, reported record attendance by executives and investors. “We also learned that virtual access is an efficient use of time in certain situations,” said Nick Savone, global head of institutional equities sales at Morgan Stanley. “However, sentiment from the majority of corporates and investors is that nothing can replace live, face-to-face engagement.”
But the business has changed permanently in the post-pandemic era, according to industry insiders. “There is still an insatiable appetite from investors to meet with management teams,” Savone said. “Nevertheless, management teams have become more selective of where they spend their time physically. We learned that marquee conferences, where management teams can amplify their message, are preferred to smaller events. Our conference offering caters to providing that level of access and opportunity to engage. With conferences held both virtually and in person throughout the year, the timeframe from origination to the execution of an event has tightened.”
BofA Securities, which maintained its No. 3 spot in the buy-side leaderboard and took second in the corporate ranking, reported similar trends.
“It was great to finally return to in-person meetings after a two-year hiatus, but with that brought a whole new set of learnings,” said Jennifer Fink, head of Americas corporate access at BofA. “The desire for in-person meetings still exists on both sides, but investors and corporates alike are re-examining their pre-pandemic travel patterns to figure out how to strike the right balance.”
According to Fink, while the need for live engagements between investors and management teams will always exist, the key for corporate access providers lies in their ability to be nimble as they facilitate these meetings. “How that access is achieved is evolving,” she added. “While nothing can replace the value of in-person meetings, we learned that technology can be a useful tool in our industry, especially when circumstances prevent the former. Flexibility is a buzzword right now, and the use of technology certainly allows for such.”
Looking forward, the interests of corporate executives and investors appear to be aligning. “Corporates want to be in front of smart investors, investors want more time from management teams,” Fink said. “Both want to be efficient with their time. We are partnering with the companies we cover and our clients to find that sweet spot. We are taking the feedback from both parties to help ensure everyone’s time is maximized and used as productively as possible. Our position gives us a unique and valuable perspective on where the industry is currently, and allows us to help shape the direction in which we move forward.”