Coronavirus Fosters More Email Interactions as Brokers Struggle to Adapt to WFH

By Sanford Bragg March 20, 2020

As the sell-side and buy-side work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, email interactions have increased by over 50%, according to research distributor Street Contxt.  At the same time, the transition to working from home is challenging for brokerages ill prepared for remote access to internal resources such as CRM systems. 

Daily email volumes from clients using Street Contxt’s platform grew from around 300,000 per day to 400,000 per day during 2019, before spiking to 600,000 per day in mid-March 2020, as asset managers and brokerage firms have implemented work-from-home policies. “Over the last few weeks we’ve been seeing a massive spike in the traffic through our platform as people stop traveling, stop seeing clients in person, and double down on email,” said Street Contxt CEO Blair Livingston. 

At the same time, many brokerages are struggling to support a scattered workforce.  “I think the front office brokerage staff are woefully under-prepared because a lot of the brokerages took the approach of ‘remote will never work’,” said Livingston.  “As a result, some brokerages are distributing their trading floors from one central floor to 3-5 distributed floors rather than having staff work from home.”  Street Contxt, which has repositioned itself to support brokers’ sales coverage of research clients, is offering clients additional licenses at no charge during the pandemic.

Like other research distribution platforms, Street Contxt has been shifting its emphasis toward measuring research interactions, primarily to support brokerage research, sales and sales traders.  The company’s core service. Street Contxt Edge, supplies detailed interaction data allowing sell-side staff to monitor research usage and react accordingly.

Street Contxt initially started by distributing desk research and indications of interest from trading desks (founder Blair Livingston was previously a desk analyst).  For this reason, the sell-side research it distributes is diverse, including formal research reports, desk commentary, sales notes, and corporate access.  Asset classes covered have expanded beyond equities to most major asset classes including Credit, FX and Macro as well as ECM and DCM distribution.

Clients total over 100 brokerage firms, including 5 out of 6 Canadian banks, 4 major US banks, and banks in Australia, Japan, Mexico and South America.  Brokerage clients cited on its website include, BMO, Jefferies, RBC, Nomura and Bernstein.  Research distributed through Street Contxt is accessed by over 500,000 buy-side and corporate users in 178 countries.

Street Contxt raised between $4 and 6 million in venture funding in April 2017 (the exact amount remains undisclosed).  Employees registered with LinkedIn have grown 5% over the last year.  According to LinkedIn, sales positions at the firm have grown 67% over the last year. 

Street Contxt was founded in 2012 by CEO Blair Livingston who was a desk analyst at RBC Capital Markets before working for IEX Group’s Brad Katsuyama, a central figure in Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys

Our Take

Most banks have implemented linkbacks to their portals for research access, but email remains the main vehicle for notifying clients about new research.  Now, as most portfolio managers and buy-side analysts work from home, email is becoming even more critical.

However, more push through email doesn’t necessarily translate into more research pull from the buy-side.  During frantic market activity, research becomes a luxury as portfolio managers react to the urgency of the moment.  As market values become increasingly disconnected from the target values cited by research analysts, the buy-side focuses more on what markets are saying rather than on what analysts think.  Brokers crank out more emails, buy-side inboxes become even more jammed and research becomes more like spam.     

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