Financial Research Solutions, a leading business development agent for independent research boutiques, initiated a campaign to promote independent research to the buy-side. At the same time, the firm has restructured its research offering to focus on boutiques meeting key criteria identified by asset managers.
Montreal-based FRS rebranded as the Research Alliance and released a new website, https://theresearchalliance.com/, which promotes the value of independent research to asset managers. The firm will be launching mailings to reinforce the message. Note: Integrity Research is one of the boutiques included in the new Research Alliance.
According to Carlos Flores, Business Development Manager for Research Alliance, the firm’s awareness campaign centers on how independent boutiques are differentiated from bank research, including better identification of exit points through a greater willingness to go negative on a stock and more limited distribution of investment ideas. “We wish to promote the consumption of independent research by the investment community as a whole,” he said. “Our campaign highlights key qualities of independent research such as increased alpha-generation and reduced risk for portfolios that incorporate independent research.”
At launch, the Research Alliance includes five boutiques: Foveal LLP (Pharmaceuticals), Insight Investment Research (Global Infrastructure), ERA Forest Products Research (Forest Products), Hillside Partners (Technology), and Integrity Research (Custom Research Sourcing).
The concept for the Research Alliance is an outgrowth of interviews with over 4,500 investment professionals from nearly 2,000 buy-side firms globally. “When we asked the buy-side what they wanted from outside research providers, the responses came down to a handful of specific needs,” said Will Richards, who founded FRS in 2006. “We use these criteria to select firms included in the Research Alliance and they are the core values for our promotion campaign to asset managers.”
The Research Alliance criteria include production of proprietary primary research; clearly defined expertise; actionable ideas including short ideas; conflict-free (no investment banking, no trading desk, no money management arm); and a limited client base. Boutiques included in the alliance typically have fewer than fifty institutional clients.
Selling boutique research is a tough proposition. Unlike bank research, which historically has been offered for ‘free’ with a trading relationship, independent research is typically explicitly priced and contracted. Distribution is limited – a potential benefit to clients – but that means it can’t be used as ‘marketing chum’ as with the banks. Boutiques develop niche expertise, so salespeople must hunt down the specific prospects focused on those niches.
Thanks to MiFID II, sales of bank research is becoming more like selling boutique research, much to the chagrin of traditional bank salespeople accustomed to a cushy role of chivvying clients to pay up for ‘free’ research. However, selling bank research is still a walk in the park compared to selling boutique research. Which is why there aren’t many sales agents and business development specialists willing to take on the challenge. Besides Research Alliance, there is a limited universe of boutique business development agents: London-based Independent Research Forum, New York-based Spartan Institutional Research, Hong Kong-based IND-X Advisors (recently acquired by Aletheia) and a handful of independent salespeople. For this reason, the Research Alliance makeover should be viewed by independents as a positive sign, whether or not they join the alliance.