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ARTICLE FOR GLOBAL BANKING & FINANCE REVIEW FROM SIMON-KUCHER & PARTNERS

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Simon Kucher

 MiFID II implications on Investment Research. Avoiding price wars and focussing on value is key for the success of the industry in a post-MiFID II world. 

Short summary

Simon Kucher

Simon Kucher

The Research industry is at a pivotal moment due to the imminent implementation of the MIFID II regulation. There is a widespread view that this will disrupt the industry, bringing down profitability. However, Simon-Kucher & Partners believes that there will always be a need for high quality research and that the players who adopt a smart differentiation strategy will stand out from their competition, increase market share and generate better profits. 

Complete article

January 3rd 2018 is a seismic day for the Investment Research industry which will experience a radical change in the very fundamentals of its business model.

From this date the new MiFID II regulations require buy-side clients(i.e. Asset Managers and Hedge Funds) to pay an unbundled commission for purchasing Research products and services, clearly separated from execution fees. The current logic ‘I will give you the research for free, if you trade with me’ won’t be applicable anymore and will instead be considered as a prohibited ‘inducement to trade’.

Until now, research has effectively never been priced and sold as standalone product. Separating research from trading is likely to push the industry into a period of discovery and intense negotiations among players in the market since there is no reference point to begin the contractual discussions. Consequently, banks are facing a situation often seen far more frequently outside financial services – the launch of a new product in the market.

There is an increasing concern that the result of this fundamental shift in perspective will ultimately trim banks’ profits and cause significant consolidation in the industry, reducing the number of research providers.

After the discovery phase, as the research products become more and more ‘mature’, the expected status quo situation will likely see the emergence of a handful of global research providers on the one hand and on the other a number of specialised players that defend a market niche. Those stuck in the middle will ultimately need to decide whether to step up their investments to join the first group or to devote all their resources to create their own niche. In any case, there seems to be no room for everyone and, for those who make it, profits won’t probably return to pre-MiFID II levels.

Although the overall picture looks gloomy, we at Simon-Kucher & Partners think that not all hope is lost! Far from it.  Even accounting for the extreme industry consolidation scenario happening, which it may not, we are convinced that this will in the end increase the willingness of buy-side institutions to pay for high-quality services.

And if the buyers are willing to pay more for quality, banks need to position themselves so they can price accordingly… which can be easier said than done without a clear strategy and strong buyer insights.

Of course, from the perspective of the bankers on the sell-side, their clients have a high bargaining power and will use it to extract favourable conditions. However, even buy-side firms have a lot to lose if they are not careful and push too hard for price reductions that hit the quality of the research.

Ultimately, Investment Banking is a relationship-based industry and it will always remain so. Relationships between banks and asset managers are so intertwined that the negotiations around research costs will always take into consideration the big picture. Buy-side firms, for example, have to evaluate the trade-off between paying a higher price on research or burning bridges completely,risking the loss off a preferential channel for capital raises or bond emissions.

However, in the new world quality will take on more importance than it did previously.  When everything was free of charge, quality didn’t really represent a factor in decision-making. Next year, when funds’ or consumers’ money will be spent for purchasing research, the classic demand and supply dynamic will become prominent. If the content generated by a sell-side provider is considered of better quality, demand for it will increase, and considering a limited supply, price will necessarily rise and so will profitability.

Investment banks must not make the mistake of considering their research products as ‘commodities’. This is the key for transforming the challenge ahead into an opportunity. Research should not be perceived solely as a report, an analyst call or a visit to a CEO, but rather as the process for generating investment ideas, and ideas have tremendous value.

Unfortunately, history doesn’t seem to have been favourable to players that have gone through a situation similar to that which banks now face.  In similar instances the existing players’ fear of losing market share has led many industries into damaging price wars.  It will be bad news for banks if they too launch into the mutually assured profit destruction of tit-for-tat prices cuts that will ultimately see valuable research sold at Pound land prices.

Simon-Kucher & Partners’ 2016 global pricing survey of more than 300 bankers across 25 countries found that the majority of the respondents acknowledge that their industry is undergoing a price war. What’s even more interesting is that 89% of respondents blamed their competitors for triggering it. The thinking is ‘they started it, we can only follow suit by decreasing our prices’. This is exactly how the commoditisation process begins and when prices go down it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bring them back up.

Global leaders in the sell-side space should ponder whether crushing competitors with extremely low prices is the right strategy or is it better to resist the temptation and keep prices economically sustainable. Competition dynamics are multi-faceted – a bank might be ranked top-3 in a particular asset class, but fall below the top-10 in another one. An aggressive strategy in one asset class is necessarily going to trigger a retaliation somewhere else, thereby contributing to lower profit levels for every provider.

In our opinion, banks need to face the regulatory challenge by simultaneously assessing their relative strengths vis-a-vis their competitors, and quantify the value they deliver to buy-side clients. Focussing on the value delivered from their research, and measuring the relative power to charge a fair price for it is key in ensuring a profitable future for the industry.

In this transition year, it will be of outmost importance for investment bankers to focus on their negotiation capabilities to strike satisfactory deals during talks with asset managers and hedge funds. Having a clear view of the overall profitability of the relationship with the buy-side will also be important in avoiding disruptions in other businesses that banks have with the same clients.

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Northern Trust: Outsourcing Accelerates Through Pandemic as Investment Managers Seek to Improve Margins, Enhance Business Resilience, and Future-Proof Operations

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Northern Trust: Outsourcing Accelerates Through Pandemic as Investment Managers Seek to Improve Margins, Enhance Business Resilience, and Future-Proof Operations 1

White Paper Sees Increase in Managers Outsourcing Middle and Front Office Functions to Achieve Optimal Business Structures

According to a white paper published today by Northern Trust (Nasdaq: NTRS), investment managers of all sizes and strategies have been prompted to undertake a comprehensive review of their operating models as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which has accelerated existing trends that are compounding cost pressures. This has led increasing numbers of managers to outsource in-house dealing and other functions, such as foreign exchange and transition management, hitherto seen as core.

While cost savings remain a core driver, and indeed are one outcome of outsourcing, costs are no longer the only focus. Far from being solely a defensive reaction to increased pressure on margins, the white paper (‘From Niche to Norm’) describes outsourcing as part of the target operating model, or moving toward the ‘Optimal State’ for many investment managers, and  explains how the focus “has expanded to the variety of other potential benefits offered – enhanced capabilities, improved governance and operational resilience.”

Gary Paulin, global head of Integrated Trading Solutions at Northern Trust Capital Markets said: “The pandemic has challenged a range of operational assumptions. Working from home has, for example, questioned the need for a portfolio manager to be in close proximity with the dealing desk. Previously considered essential, the pandemic has effectively forced firms to ‘outsource‘ their trading desks to remote working setups and the effectiveness of this process has disproved the requirement for proximity, in turn, easing the path to third-party outsourcing. Many investment managers are actively considering outsourcing to a hyper-scale, expert provider as a potential, cost efficient solution – one that maintains service quality and, hopefully, improves it whilst adding resiliency.”

Northern Trust’s white paper compares outsourced trading to software-as-a-service stating: “instead of carrying the cost and complexity of running an in-house solution, firms move to an outsourced one, free up capital to invest in strategic growth and move costs from a fixed to a variable basis in line with the direction of travel for revenues.” 

Guy Gibson, global head of Institutional Brokerage at Northern Trust Capital Markets said: “The opportunity to deploy capital to build new fund structures, develop new offerings, focus on distribution and enhance in-house research has been taken up by several of our clients to the benefit of their investment approach, and to the benefit of their investors.  Additionally, in the last two months alone, many firms have recognized that outsourcing to a well-capitalized, global platform has enabled them to take advantage of cost-contained growth opportunities in new markets.”

A further development, which has echoes of the journey the technology industry has already undertaken, is the move towards ‘whole office’ solutions, which represent the next potential wave in outsourcing.

According to Paulin; “recently we have observed a growing number of managers wanting to outsource to a single, hyper-scale professional service provider who can do everything, everywhere. This aligns with Northern Trust’s strategy to deliver platform solutions for the whole office, serving our clients’ needs across the entire investment lifecycle.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.

Integrated Trading Solutions is Northern Trust’s outsourced trading capability that combines worldwide locations and trading expertise in equities and fixed income and derivatives with access to global markets, high-quality liquidity and an integrated middle and back office service as well as other services, such as FX. It helps asset owners and asset managers to meaningfully lower costs, reduce risk, manage regulatory compliance and enhance transparency and operational efficiency.

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How are investors traversing the UK’s transition out of lockdown?

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How are investors traversing the UK’s transition out of lockdown? 2

By Giles Coghlan, Chief Currency Analyst, HYCM

Just when we thought we had overcome the initial health challenges posed by COVID-19, the UK Government has once again introduced lockdown measures in certain regions to curb a rise in new cases. This is happening at a time when the government is trying to bring about the country’s post-pandemic recovery and prevent a prolonged economic downturn.

This is the reality of the “new normal” – a constant battle to both contain the spread of the virus but also avoid extended economic stagnation.

Of course, no matter how many policies are introduced to spur on investment, traders and investors are likely to act with caution for the foreseeable future. There are simply too many unknowns to content with at the moment.

To try and measure investor sentiment towards different asset classes at present, HYCM recently commissioned research to uncover which assets investors are planning to invest in over the coming 12 months. After surveying over 900 UK-based investors, our figures show just how COVID-19 has affected different investor portfolios. I have analysed the key findings below.

Cash retreat

At present, it seems that by far the most common asset class for investors is cash savings, with 78% of investors identifying as having some form of savings in a bank account. Other popular assets were stocks and shares (48%) and property (38%). While not surprising, when viewed in the context of investor’s future plans for investment, it becomes evident that security, above all else, is what investors are currently seeking.

A third of those surveyed (32%) said that they intended to put more of their wealth into their savings account, the most common strategy by far among those surveyed. This was followed by stocks and shares (21%), property (17%), and fixed interest securities (17%).

When asked about what impact COVID-19 has had on their portfolios throughout 2020, 43% stated that their portfolio had decreased in value as a consequence of the pandemic. This has evidently had an effect on investors’ mindsets, with 73% stating that they were not planning on making any major investment decisions for the rest of the year.

Looking at the road ahead

So, it seems that many investors are adopting a wait-and-see approach; hoping that the promise of a V-shaped recovery comes to fruition. The issue, however, is that this exact type of hesitancy when it comes to investing may well slow the pace of economic recovery. Financial markets need stimulus in order to help facilitate a post-pandemic economic resurgence, but if said financial stimulation only arrives once the recovery has already begun, the economy risks extended stagnation.

It seems, then, that there are two possible set outcomes on the path ahead. The first is a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, then an economic downturn as the markets correct themselves, followed by a return to relative economic stability. The second potential outcome is a second spike of COVID-19 cases which incurs a second nationwide lockdown – delaying an economic revival for the foreseeable future. At present, the former of these two scenarios is seemingly playing out with economic growth and GDP steadily increasing; but recent COVID-19 case upticks show that it’s still too soon to be certain of either scenario.

A cautious approach, therefore, will evidently remain the most common investment strategy looking ahead. But investors must remember that, even in the most uncertain times, there are always opportunities for returns on investment. Merely transforming a varied portfolio into cash savings risks a long-term decline in value.

High Risk Investment Warning: CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 73% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. For more information please refer to HYCM’s Risk Disclosure.

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Hatton Gardens 5 top tips for investing in Diamonds

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Hatton Gardens 5 top tips for investing in Diamonds 3

By Ben Stinson, Head of eCommerce at Diamonds Factory

Investing in diamonds can be extremely rewarding, but only if you know what to look for. For investors who lack experience, finding your diamond in the rough can be quite daunting.

For even the most beginner of diamond investors, the essentials are fairly obvious. For instance, you need to ask yourself will the diamond hold its value over time? What’s the overall condition of the stone and the jewellery? Is there history behind the item in question?

Although common sense plays a big part in investing, people often need insider tips and tricks to go from beginner to expert. Tony French, the in-house Diamond Consultant, at Diamonds Factory shares his professional knowledge on the 5 most important things to look for when investing in diamonds.

1: Using cut, weight and colour to determine value

Firstly, consider the shape, colour, and weight of your diamond, as this can play a pivotal role in guaranteeing growth in the value of your item. Granted, investing trends change with time, but a round cut of your diamond will almost always be the most sought after. The cut of your diamond is incredibly important, as it can influence the sparkle and therefore, the overall value. It’s a similar story for the intensity of some colours, such as Pink, Red, Blue, Green etc. Concerning weight, the heavier (bigger) stones will generally increase in value by a bigger percentage. Collectively these factors also contribute to the supply and demand aspect, which will determine their high price, and will ensure your item is re-sellable.

2: Provenance

Looking for significant value? Well, aim to own jewellery or diamonds that come from an important public figure. If you’re lucky enough to own a piece that has significant history, or was owned by a celebrity or person of interest, it’s an absolute must to have concrete evidence of this. Immediately, this proof will increase an item’s overall value, and there’s a good chance the stardom of your item might drum up interest amongst diehard fans, increasing the value even further…

Equally, it’s possible to proactively bring provenance to unique diamonds of yours. For instance, you can offer to loan bespoke, or unusual pieces for film, theatre, or TV performances – then it can be advertised as worn by xyz.

3: Find the source

Ben Stinson

Ben Stinson

Establishing your diamond’s source is one of the most important things you can do when investing in diamonds. If you’re starting out, try to purchase diamonds that have NOT been owned by too many people, as the overall value of the diamond will reflect multiple ownership. Alternatively, I’d always recommend buying from suppliers like ourselves or other suppliers and retailers, who buy directly from the people who have had them certified.

Primarily, this will allow you to have a greater degree of transparency, which is crucial when buying such a valuable item. Next, you should immediately see an increase in value of your diamonds, as identifying a source will allow traceability and therefore, market context.

4: Certification

Linked closely with my previous point, is the requirement to ensure that your diamonds are certified by a credible lab, and you have the evidence to prove so (a written document with specific grading details about your diamonds) – this will remove any doubts of impropriety.

It’s essential to remember that not all labs are the same, and many labs are better than others. Both the AGS (American Gem Society) and GIA (Gemological Institute of America) have great reputations and are world renowned. I’d recommend doing your own research into the labs, and when you’ve found the pieces that you’d like to invest in, then make an informed decision based upon your findings. Ultimately, proving certification will make your stones easier to insure, and deep down, you can have peace of mind knowing you have got what you have paid for.

Don’t forget to keep this paperwork in a safe location as well – you’d be surprised how many people we’ve met who have lost, or forget where they’ve placed it.

5:  Patience is a virtue…

If the market is strong, it might be tempting to look for an immediate sale once you’ve purchased a high value item. However, I suggest holding onto your diamonds for some time before even thinking about selling. More often than not, an item is more likely to increase in value over a few years than a few days – try and wait a little longer!

Equally, I would encourage having your diamonds, or jewellery professionally valued regularly. If you don’t have the knowledge to make a rough judgement on how much your pieces are worth, a consultant or expert can provide both a valuation, and contextualise that amount in the wider market. From there, you should be empowered with the knowledge to decide whether to keep or sell.

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