The first equity research portals on the Internet were created by investment banks that could commit significant resources. As having an online presence went from nice-to-have to required, smaller research providers and institutional brokers felt the need to build their own portals, even if the investment required was far more challenging for them.
Despite these efforts, these portals have mostly failed to pay for themselves. The following 7 points explore why.
1. NO AGGREGATION
The end of the hegemony of the bulge bracket over research supply, the proliferation of independent providers and the globalization of investment needs has led to a fragmented marketplace. Asset managers are looking at an ever-increasing number of diversified content sources. Your equity research portal that essentially shows one point of view is therefore less attractive to your customers. Today's busy asset manager wants all content related to their investment process in one place, rather than having to regularly check multiple portals and aggregate information themselves.
Note that this April, Bank of America Merrill Lynch have opened their research portal to two independent research providers. A trend?
2. NOT WELL DESIGNED
The presentation of business data, especially in finance, has long been able to ignore good design that would make it better navigable and more understandable. Whether through a lack of understanding of the value of design, a lack of resources, or simply a lack of care, most equity research is poorly presented, driving away the reader. Too much information, the misuse of colour, poor typography and missing or low quality visuals are just some of the commonly encountered issues. As information overload becomes a major factor in all aspects of our (and therefore your customers') lives, investing in the presentation of your content is absolutely necessary.
3. NOT TIMELY (ENOUGH)
Asset managers have varying requirements and, needless to say, a tiny window of time to devote to your portal. In order to capture their attention, your content must be relevant and be brought to their attention at exactly the right time. Unless you have a deep, almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the changing interests of your customers, it is difficult if not impossible to disseminate the right information at the right moment.
Timing is key for your most relevant research to not be lost in the “matrix".
4. NOT CONTEXTUAL
Your portal might be rich in terms of content, but it is the same for all. Each asset manager is different. It is important cater to their needs as specifically as possible–investment styles, geographies, allowed strategy and instrument types, and even specific assets or analysts. This is of course easy to say but considerably harder to do, requiring technology, time, and tools. Though most portals nowadays offer some sort of filtering functionality, the future is contextual. As soon as your customer logs in, only relevant content must be presented. Think of your research as a big library with thousands of books. To be truly useful, on each visit, each customer-reader should easily discover new titles relevant to them, and perhaps even see the aisles organised specifically for them.
"Know Your Customer" is no longer merely a compliance burden but a ‘must-have’ in your equity research offering.
5. NOT UBIQUITOUS
Mobile computing and the modern web have dramatically fragmented content distribution, creating new technical headaches and associated costs to manage the complexity. Adapting text, visuals, layouts, navigation, and many other aspects to different devices & screen sizes is a real struggle, often requiring deep technical skills. Further, with growing content availability, modern reading habits are mutating. The rise of newsletters and blogs, for better or worse, are imposing shorter, more sequenced and visual formats. While it is laudable and necessary for financial analysis to remain focused on fundamentals, it must still cater to new reading behaviours and become more ’snackable'. Being able to capture your audience's attention anywhere and quickly pass on your knowledge is key.
Personal mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (and soon watches?) are increasingly becoming tools for managing personal finances. How long until market professionals demand the same?
6. NOT (REALLY) DIGITAL
Several players, including some investment banks, have attempted to offer more interactive access to research material. But far too often, the final content is still PDF. It is undeniably true that the powerful page layout, formatting, and typography of PDF documents have helped the readability of equity research. However, the downsides of the format have become too great—no interactivity, no semantic structure, poor searchability, not adapted to variable screen sizes—to name a few. Content marketing, born with social networks, requires the redistribution of the same content crafted in different formats customised for the new numerous digital media channels. For instance, a 10-page stock report from your web portal must be whittled down to 3 pages for your corporate blog, then to a single-page for your monthly newsletter, which may itself be summarized into a few paragraphs as a teaser posted on LinkedIn, ending its digital journey as 140 characters on Twitter.
Will your valuable content stayed buried in a dead-end format?
7. NOT CONNECTED
In new digital economies, competitive development models are often being replaced by emerging complementary models. The online software industry (SaaS) is a prime example: each new offering is designed to connect to existing ones quickly and easily, thus creating a much larger value chain. For example, your CRM can plug into your newsletter editor, e-mail publisher, accounting software, and so on. Actual research is only one part in the procurement process. Easily connecting research to third-party customer management software, connectivity infrastructure, allocation or usage reporting tool multiply opportunities. Value lies in connecting with the right and complementary offers to increase lead generation and customer stickiness. This evolutionary approach can no longer be ignored as technology plays a growing role in the equity research industry.
Could you create more value by easily integrating with a complementary partners?
Equity research is moving beyond the current web portal model, accelerating the need for new, technologically enhanced offerings.
The modern research consumer is fast changing their old procurement habits. Traditional research producers need to find the agility to adapt their production and distribution apparatus to stay relevant.