According to data from consulting firm Crisil Coalition, equity research analysts employed by the 12 largest global investment banks shrank 12% in the first half of 2020. This trend ran counter to the growth in the number of registered analysts working in China in 2020.
Conflicting Trends in Research Analyst Headcount
According to financial services consulting firm Crisil Coalition, research analyst headcount at 12 of the largest global investment banks, including Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale and UBS plunged 12% from 3,500 analysts at the end of 2019 to slightly more than 3,000 analysts at the end of June 2020.
The decline seen in 2020 is the continuation of a longer-term trend in shrinking analyst headcount. Since 2012 when Coalition started collecting this data, analyst headcount at the 12 largest investment banks has dropped 30% from 4,400 analysts to just over 3,000 in mid-2020. While some of this drop could be attributed to the implementation of MiFID II, clearly the weakness in analyst headcount started way before the MiFID II unbundling mandate. Most market analysts explain this hiring downtrend to the long-term drop seen in equity commission volume
Contrary to the plunge in global analyst headcount, the number of research analysts employed in China has surged over the past few years. According to data provided by the Securities Association of China, the number of registered analysts in China rose 8% in 2020 to 3,475 analysts in 2020. The number of registered analysts in China has risen 59% from 2,200 analysts employed in 2016.
The most recent rise in analyst hiring could be attributed to the fact that a number of foreign banks have ramped up hiring after being allowed to take full control of their China securities businesses last year. In addition, China’s expanding capital markets have created growing demand for an increased number of sell-side analysts in recent years.
The divergent trends seen in analyst headcount data discussed above are driven by a couple of factors. First, macro issues like falling equity commission volumes, lower commission rates, and mandated unbundling have driven down the profitability of most equity research franchises – a trend that has led the large banks to rationalize the size of their research teams. In comparison, the opening up of the China capital markets has created a huge opportunity for many bulge bracket investment banks – a factor that has led to increased analyst headcount.
However, another reason the data above are divergent is the fact that the datasets compare apples to oranges. The Crisil Coalition data reveals the analyst headcount levels of the 12 largest global investment banks, whereas the Securities Association of China data reflects the analyst headcount data from over 130 Chinese brokerage firms – many of which are local brokers. In recent years, some of the most aggressive analyst hiring in China has come from local brokers, as investors have been looking for local insight.
Despite these differences, this data reveals extremely interesting trends in research analyst demand. Clearly, demand for sell-side analysts at most large global investment banks is on the decline, while demand for research analysts in China is, at least for the moment, on the rise.