Colby Howard

Published on May 15, 2024

Featured Article

The Value of Equity Research for Asset Managers

Asset managers often use bank equity research to guide their investment decisions. However, relying too much on this research can have downsides. This article explains the risks and offers alternative strategies.

Understanding the Risks of Relying on Bank Equity Research

Asset managers often rely on equity research from banks to inform their investment decisions. This article explores the potential downsides of such reliance and offers alternative strategies. Understanding these nuances helps asset managers make more informed decisions and optimize their investment strategies. This comprehensive guide covers:

  • Conflicts of interest
  • Lack of independence
  • Short-term focus
  • Herding behavior
  • And more

The goal is to provide asset managers with a balanced perspective on how to effectively use bank research while mitigating its risks.

Conflicts of Interest in Bank Equity Research

Banks often have investment banking relationships or other business ties with the companies they cover. This creates conflicts of interest that may bias their research. For example, a bank might hesitate to issue a sell recommendation on a significant client. Asset managers relying on this research might not get an objective perspective.

Impact on Investment Decisions:

  • Biased research can lead to poor investment choices.
  • Asset managers may miss out on profitable opportunities or hold on to underperforming assets.

Ways to Identify and Mitigate Conflicts of Interest:

  1. Cross-reference multiple sources: Use various research reports to get a broader view.
  2. Focus on independent research: Independent firms often provide more objective insights.
  3. Check for disclaimers: Look for any potential conflicts mentioned in the research report.
  4. In-house analysis: Develop your own research capabilities to complement external data.

By being aware of these conflicts, asset managers can better navigate the complexities of equity research.

Lack of Independence in Bank Research

Bank research may lack the independence of in-house research. In-house research can be tailored to the specific needs and investment philosophy of the asset manager. Bank research, on the other hand, is produced for a broad audience.

Effect on Quality and Relevance:

  • Generic Recommendations: Bank research addresses a wide range of clients, potentially diluting its relevance.
  • One-size-fits-all Analysis: This approach may not align with the specific strategies or goals of an individual asset manager.
  • Missed Nuances: Broad reports may overlook vital details pertinent to niche sectors or unique investment theses.

Benefits of Developing an In-house Research Team:

  1. Tailored Insights: Custom research that aligns with your investment philosophy.
  2. Control Over Quality: Direct oversight of research methodology ensures high standards.
  3. Unique Perspectives: In-house teams can explore unconventional or contrarian ideas not covered by mainstream bank research.

By focusing on independence, asset managers can enhance the relevancy and quality of their research efforts.

The Pitfalls of Short-term Focus in Bank Research

Bank research often focuses on short-term catalysts like quarterly earnings, which may not align with the longer-term investment horizon of many asset managers. This short-term focus could lead to suboptimal investment decisions for long-term investors.

Examples of Misguided Long-term Strategies:

  • Quarterly Earnings Impact: Frequent shifts based on quarterly earnings can cause an asset manager to miss the bigger picture.
  • Market Reaction: Short-term research often leads to reactionary decisions, such as buying or selling based on a single earnings report, which may not reflect the company’s long-term potential.
  • Volatility: Overemphasis on short-term data can increase portfolio turnover, leading to higher transaction costs and potential tax implications.

Balancing Short-term Insights with Long-term Goals:

  • Integrating Long-term Trend Analysis: Combine short-term data with long-term trends to form a more comprehensive investment strategy.
  • Focus on Fundamentals: Prioritize company fundamentals and industry dynamics over temporary market movements.
  • Diversified Research Sources: Use a mix of bank research and independent long-term analyses to get a well-rounded perspective.

Taking these steps helps asset managers avoid the pitfalls of a short-term focus, ensuring their strategies align with long-term goals.

Avoiding Herding and Groupthink in Bank Research

If many asset managers rely on the same bank research, it can lead to herding behavior and groupthink. This can create market inefficiencies and bubbles if too many investors are buying or selling based on the same research.

Understanding Herding Behavior:

  • Definition: Herding occurs when asset managers make similar investment decisions based on the same information, leading to a concentration of investments in certain stocks.
  • Market Implications: This behavior can cause asset prices to inflate artificially, creating bubbles that may burst, causing significant losses.

Implications for Market Stability:

  • Market Volatility: When too many investors follow the same research, sudden mass sell-offs or buy-ins can increase market volatility.
  • Reduced Diversity: Lack of diverse investment strategies can lead to reduced market diversity, making the market more susceptible to shocks.

Strategies to Avoid Groupthink:

  • Encourage Diverse Viewpoints: Foster a culture where different opinions and analyses are valued. This helps in creating a more balanced investment strategy.
  • Critical Thinking: Promote critical thinking within the team. Encourage questioning and in-depth analysis rather than blindly following popular research.
  • Independent Analysis: Develop in-house research capabilities to provide unique insights. This reduces reliance on external sources and helps in identifying contrarian opportunities.
  • Cross-referencing Multiple Sources: Use a variety of research sources to get a comprehensive view. This helps in mitigating the biases inherent in any single source.

By implementing these strategies, asset managers can avoid the pitfalls of herding and groupthink, leading to more stable and diversified investment portfolios.

Developing Unique Insights for Better Investment Returns

By outsourcing a significant portion of their research to banks, asset managers may miss out on developing unique insights and investment theses. This can make it harder to generate differentiated returns and can lead to more index-like performance.

Importance of Unique Insights in Achieving Alpha:

  • Alpha Generation: Unique insights can help in identifying undervalued assets or overlooked opportunities, which is crucial for generating alpha.
  • Competitive Edge: Proprietary research provides a competitive edge. It helps asset managers stand out by offering unique investment ideas not covered by mainstream research.

How to Develop Proprietary Research Capabilities:

  • Build an In-House Research Team: Hire analysts who specialize in different sectors. This allows for deeper dives into specific industries or companies, providing more granular insights.
  • Use Alternative Data Sources: Leverage alternative data such as social media sentiment, satellite imagery, or supply chain information. These sources can uncover trends before they become apparent in traditional financial data.
  • Engage with Industry Experts: Conduct regular interviews with industry experts and insiders. Their firsthand knowledge can provide invaluable insights that are not available in public reports.
  • Customized Research Tools: Develop or purchase specialized research tools and software that can analyze data in unique ways. Tools like sentiment analysis software or machine learning algorithms can offer new perspectives.
  • Field Research: Conduct site visits and meet with company management. This hands-on approach can reveal operational strengths and weaknesses that are not evident in financial statements.

Examples of Uncovering Hidden Opportunities:

  • Case Study: Small-Cap Stocks: An asset manager specializing in small-cap stocks might use proprietary research to identify a small but growing company that major banks overlook. This early investment can yield significant returns.
  • Emerging Markets: By focusing on emerging markets and using local data sources, asset managers can identify growth opportunities that are not yet on the radar of major banks.
  • Sector-Specific Insights: An asset manager might focus on a niche sector like renewable energy. By conducting deep research into this sector, they can identify promising companies before they become widely recognized.

Developing these proprietary research capabilities helps asset managers uncover hidden opportunities, leading to better investment decisions and superior returns.

Risks of Overreliance on Consensus Views

Bank research often reflects consensus views on a stock or industry. Asset managers who rely too heavily on this research may struggle to identify contrarian opportunities or may be late in reacting to shifts in market sentiment.

Risks of Following Consensus Views:

  • Missed Contrarian Opportunities: When everyone follows the same research, contrarian opportunities—those that go against the prevailing market sentiment—can be easily overlooked. These opportunities often provide the highest potential returns because they are less crowded and more undervalued.
  • Delayed Reactions: Consensus views can lead to delayed reactions. If market conditions change quickly, relying on widely accepted views may cause asset managers to react too late, missing out on early gains or failing to mitigate losses.
  • Market Inefficiencies: Overreliance on consensus views can contribute to market inefficiencies. Herding behavior, where many investors make similar decisions based on the same information, can inflate asset prices and create bubbles.

Importance of Independent Thinking:

  • Generating Alpha: Independent research and contrarian thinking are crucial for generating alpha. By challenging the consensus, asset managers can identify unique investment opportunities that others may miss.
  • Risk Management: Independent research helps in better risk management. It allows asset managers to have a more nuanced understanding of potential risks and rewards, rather than relying on broad, generalized views.

Contrarian Research Strategies:

  • Diverse Data Sources: Use a variety of data sources, including alternative data and independent research firms, to get a broader perspective.
  • Scenario Analysis: Conduct scenario analysis to evaluate different potential outcomes. This helps in understanding how investments could perform under various conditions, rather than just following the consensus.
  • Critical Review: Regularly review and critique existing investment theses. This involves questioning assumptions and considering alternative viewpoints.
  • Contrarian Indicators: Use contrarian indicators, such as market sentiment indices, to gauge when the consensus may be wrong. For example, extreme bullish or bearish sentiment can be a signal that the market is due for a reversal.

Examples of Contrarian Success:

  • Tech Boom and Bust: During the tech boom of the late 1990s, many investors followed the consensus view that tech stocks would continue to rise indefinitely. Contrarian investors who recognized the bubble and exited early avoided significant losses when the bubble burst.
  • Financial Crisis: In the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, the consensus view was that the housing market would remain strong. Contrarian investors who identified the underlying risks in mortgage-backed securities were able to profit when the market collapsed.

By prioritizing independent thinking and contrarian research, asset managers can better navigate market complexities, identify unique investment opportunities, and achieve superior returns.

Importance of Granular Research

Bank research, produced at scale, often lacks the depth and granularity of focused, in-house research. It may not dive deeply into a company’s operations, competitive positioning, or industry dynamics.

Granular Research Benefits:

  • Detailed Insights: Granular research provides detailed insights into a company’s internal operations, such as supply chain efficiency, management quality, and financial health. This level of detail helps asset managers make more informed decisions.
  • Competitive Positioning: Understanding a company’s competitive positioning within its industry can reveal strengths and weaknesses that broad reports may miss. This includes market share, pricing power, and unique value propositions.
  • Industry Dynamics: Sector-specific research delves into industry trends, regulatory changes, and technological advancements. This helps asset managers anticipate shifts that may impact investment performance.

Examples of Critical Insights:

  • Operational Efficiencies: In-depth research into a manufacturing company’s operations might uncover inefficiencies in production processes. Identifying these inefficiencies can indicate potential for margin improvement, which broad reports might overlook.
  • Management Quality: Detailed due diligence can assess the quality and track record of a company’s management team. Strong leadership is often a key driver of long-term success, but it may not be highlighted in general bank research.
  • Regulatory Changes: Sector-specific research can flag upcoming regulatory changes that could impact an industry. For example, new environmental regulations might affect the profitability of energy companies, a detail that broad reports might not fully address.

Conducting Detailed Due Diligence:

  • Site Visits: Visiting company sites, such as factories or retail locations, provides firsthand insights into operations and customer experiences.
  • Interviews: Speaking with company executives, employees, and industry experts offers deeper understanding and insider perspectives.
  • Financial Modeling: Creating detailed financial models based on granular data allows for more accurate forecasting and valuation, helping to identify mispriced assets.

Sector-Specific Research Advantages:

  • Tailored Analysis: Sector-specific research tailors analysis to the unique characteristics and dynamics of each industry, providing more relevant and actionable insights.
  • Early Identification of Trends: Focusing on specific sectors allows asset managers to identify emerging trends early, such as new technologies or shifting consumer preferences, which can drive investment performance.

By conducting granular research and detailed due diligence, asset managers can uncover critical insights that broad reports may miss. This approach leads to more informed investment decisions and helps in achieving superior returns.

Effective Mitigation Strategies

To mitigate risks associated with relying on bank research, asset managers can complement it with in-house research, alternative data, and unique analysis.

In-House Research:

  • Customization: In-house research can be tailored to the specific investment philosophy and objectives of the asset manager. This ensures alignment with long-term goals.
  • Control: Having control over the research process allows asset managers to set priorities, methodologies, and focus areas. This leads to more relevant and high-quality insights.

Alternative Data:

  • Non-Traditional Sources: Utilizing data from non-traditional sources, such as social media sentiment, web traffic, and satellite imagery, can provide unique insights not covered in bank research.
  • Predictive Analytics: Advanced analytics can identify patterns and trends that traditional financial data might miss. This can enhance decision-making and identify new opportunities.

Unique Analysis:

  • Proprietary Models: Developing proprietary financial models based on unique data sets can lead to more accurate valuations and forecasts.
  • Sector-Specific Expertise: Building expertise in specific sectors allows for deeper understanding and more informed investment decisions. This includes continuous monitoring of industry trends and regulatory changes.

Cross-Verifying Information:

  • Multiple Sources: Cross-referencing information from multiple sources helps validate the accuracy and reliability of data. This reduces the risk of making decisions based on biased or incomplete information.
  • Critical Perspective: Maintaining a critical perspective involves questioning assumptions and analyzing the underlying factors driving research conclusions. This helps avoid groupthink and ensures a balanced view.

Practical Examples:

  • Technology Sector: In the technology sector, combining bank research with insights from tech conferences, patent filings, and product reviews can provide a more comprehensive view of a company’s innovation pipeline.
  • Healthcare Sector: In healthcare, using alternative data such as clinical trial results, FDA approval timelines, and expert opinions from medical professionals can offer deeper insights into a company’s growth potential and risks.

Balancing External and Internal Research:

  • Integrated Approach: An integrated approach involves combining external and internal research to leverage the strengths of both. External research provides broad market perspectives, while internal research offers detailed, tailored insights.
  • Continuous Learning: Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and adaptation helps asset managers stay ahead of market changes and emerging trends. This involves regular training, attending industry events, and subscribing to specialized publications.

By employing these strategies, asset managers can effectively balance external and internal research, enhancing their ability to make informed and strategic investment decisions.

Navigating Regulatory and Compliance Challenges

Asset managers face stringent regulatory requirements, impacting how they can use bank research. These regulations include diversification mandates and restrictions on certain investments.

Regulatory Landscape:

  • Diversification Requirements: Regulations often mandate asset managers to diversify their portfolios. This reduces risk but can limit the ability to make concentrated bets based on bank research.
  • Investment Restrictions: Some asset managers are restricted from investing in certain asset classes or sectors. This can prevent them from acting on specific recommendations from bank research.

Compliance Implications:

  • Due Diligence: Asset managers must perform thorough due diligence to ensure investments comply with regulatory standards. This involves cross-referencing bank research with regulatory guidelines.
  • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of investment decisions and the research behind them is crucial. This helps in audits and demonstrates compliance with regulations.
  • Transparency: Transparent reporting to clients and regulators about the sources of research and the rationale behind investment decisions builds trust and ensures compliance.

Best Practices for Compliance:

  • Regular Training: Asset managers should undergo regular training to stay updated on regulatory changes. This helps them adapt their strategies accordingly.
  • Compliance Teams: Having dedicated compliance teams ensures that all investment decisions meet regulatory requirements. These teams can also review bank research for compliance issues.
  • Independent Verification: Independent verification of bank research by compliance teams or third parties can identify potential regulatory issues before they impact investment decisions.

Leveraging Bank Research:

  • Selective Use: Asset managers can selectively use bank research that aligns with their regulatory obligations. This involves focusing on insights that complement their investment strategy without breaching regulations.
  • Supplementing with In-House Research: Combining bank research with in-house research ensures a comprehensive view that meets regulatory standards and enhances investment decisions.
  • Ethical Considerations: Ethical considerations play a role in compliance. Ensuring that investment decisions are not only legally compliant but also ethically sound can build long-term trust with clients and regulators.


  • ESG Investments: In the realm of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing, regulations may require adherence to specific criteria. Combining bank research with in-house ESG analysis ensures compliance and supports ethical investment choices.
  • Sector-Specific Regulations: In sectors like healthcare, where investments may be subject to additional scrutiny, asset managers can use specialized in-house research to complement bank insights. This ensures compliance with both general and sector-specific regulations.

By understanding the regulatory landscape and implementing best practices, asset managers can leverage bank research effectively while ensuring compliance. This balanced approach supports informed and strategic investment decisions.

Evaluating the Cost Implications of Bank Research

High-quality equity research from top banks often comes with a hefty price tag. This can add to the operational costs for asset managers.

Cost-Benefit Analysis:

  • High Costs: Subscribing to premium research from top investment banks can be expensive. Fees can run into thousands of dollars annually.
  • Bundled Services: Banks often bundle research with other services like trading or advisory. This bundling can inflate costs, even for services not frequently used.
  • Opportunity Costs: Relying on bank research can mean missing opportunities to develop in-house expertise, which can be a long-term cost.

Cost-Effective Alternatives:

  • Open-Source Research Platforms: Platforms like Seeking Alpha and SSRN offer free or low-cost research reports. These can be valuable supplements to bank research.
  • Internal Research Capabilities: Building an in-house research team can be a significant initial investment but offers long-term savings. An internal team can provide tailored insights that align more closely with the asset manager’s strategy.
  • Academic Partnerships: Collaborating with universities can provide access to cutting-edge research at a lower cost. This can also offer unique insights not available through traditional bank research.

Strategies to Mitigate Costs:

  • Selective Subscriptions: Instead of subscribing to broad research packages, asset managers can choose specialized reports tailored to their needs. This reduces unnecessary expenses.
  • Negotiating Bundles: Asset managers can negotiate with banks to unbundle services, paying only for the research they need.
  • Leveraging Technology: Tools like AI and machine learning can help analyze large volumes of data quickly and cost-effectively. These tools can complement bank research and provide additional insights.


  • Quantitative Analysis: Using quantitative analysis tools, asset managers can independently verify the findings of bank research. This dual-layer approach ensures accuracy and cost-effectiveness.
  • Crowdsourced Research: Platforms like Estimize offer crowdsourced earnings estimates, providing a diverse range of opinions at a fraction of the cost of bank research.

By carefully evaluating the cost implications and exploring cost-effective alternatives, asset managers can optimize their research expenditures. This balanced approach allows them to maintain high-quality insights while managing operational costs effectively.

Conclusion: Balancing Bank and In-House Research for Optimal Performance

While bank research offers valuable insights, overreliance on it can hinder asset managers from delivering unique, long-term performance. Several key points highlight why a balanced approach is essential:

  1. Conflicts of Interest: Banks may have business ties with companies they cover, creating biases. To mitigate this, asset managers should cross-reference multiple sources and use independent research.
  2. Lack of Independence: Bank research serves a broad audience, often lacking the tailored insights an in-house team can provide. Developing internal research capabilities ensures alignment with specific investment strategies.
  3. Short-term Focus: Bank research often emphasizes short-term catalysts. Asset managers should blend these insights with long-term trend analysis to avoid suboptimal decisions.
  4. Herding and Groupthink: Relying on the same research as peers can lead to market inefficiencies. Encouraging diverse viewpoints and critical thinking helps prevent this.
  5. Missing Unique Insights: Outsourcing research to banks may result in missed opportunities for unique investment theses. Building proprietary research capabilities can uncover hidden opportunities.
  6. Overreliance on Consensus Views: Following consensus views can make it difficult to identify contrarian opportunities. Independent thinking is crucial for achieving superior returns.
  7. Lack of Granularity: Bank research may not dive deeply into specific companies or sectors. Conducting detailed due diligence provides critical insights often missed by broad reports.
  8. Cost Implications: High-quality bank research can be expensive. Leveraging cost-effective alternatives like open-source platforms and internal teams can optimize research expenditures.

By balancing external and internal research sources, asset managers can achieve a holistic approach to investment analysis. This strategy combines multiple data points and perspectives, leading to more informed and differentiated investment decisions.

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