Is MIFID II Hindering Innovation?

In the past year MIFID II has enticed change and development across the financial markets and research sector. Here Fabrice Bouland, CEO of Alphametry, analyses said change and the impact it has had on innovation. Six months in and MiFID II research unbundling regulation has appeared to create an even worse market for investment research […]

In the past year MIFID II has enticed change and development across the financial markets and research sector. Here Fabrice Bouland, CEO of Alphametry, analyses said change and the impact it has had on innovation.

Six months in and MiFID II research unbundling regulation has appeared to create an even worse market for investment research than we had previously. With many commentators decrying the ‘unintended consequences’ of the new legislation – namely bringing the research market to a grinding halt as asset managers assess their needs and sparking a price war which has all but crippled smaller, niche research houses – one might wonder if there is anything positive to say about the impact of MiFID II on the research market and whether anything which can be done to revive it?

In truth, MiFID II has ultimately shown us the historical ambiguity investment managers have always had with research. There has never been an easy way to answer fundamental questions like ‘what research is needed’, ‘how much should we pay for it’ and ‘how do we measure the value’. This lack of structure has been pulled well and truly into the spotlight under the new EU regulation, as well as the financial services sector’s slow take-up of new technology to answer these questions.

Thanks in some part to the new regulation, active management might be at a historic turning point. The progress in investment technologies is about to experience a quantum leap forward plus the expected deluge of new alternative data will unleash an unprecedented potential. R&D and new technology must play a leading role in this and MiFID II can claim credit for creating this opportunity to innovate.

Time to innovate

From a buy-side perspective, research providers need to adopt entirely new strategies to survive.

In the past six months, we have seen two developments. Firstly, Tier-1 providers are pushing content exclusively on their websites. This is a step back from a user experience perspective as remembering numerous passwords is impractical for portfolio managers to the extent that some have cut providers which do not provide easy access to their portals. Distributing research via aggregators or marketplaces in order to reach the maximum number of channels is another option in today’s market. This could be applied to any type of research or data, in whatever format, for the easier and faster use of the portfolio manager.

The second innovation we are starting to see is from research providers who, in response to plummeting prices, are reducing the number of analysts and opted for more automated production. Commerzbank is one provider which is experimenting with artificial intelligence to see if it can write basic analyst notes automatically to trim research costs.

Alternative research and AI

With regulation forcing active managers to value their historical research franchise, it’s become clear that research has barely evolved whereas the world of investible assets has changed dramatically. Factors affecting a company’s valuation go way beyond the simple analysis of its financials or strategy.

The rise of alternative datasets which cover a wide range of digital inputs from social media to credit card data, are becoming increasingly valuable to asset managers. In many ways, the rise of alternative data is one of the first manifestation of how research is changing for the better under MiFID II.

Similarly, the research product may no longer be exclusively research reports but also the technology layer which is able to extract intelligence from them automatically, quickly and at scale. Since the buy-side has always heavily relied on the sell-side when it comes to technology, most active investors are stuck in a technological gap. Capturing and processing a more and more sophisticated and voluminous information resource seems the way forward.

Is MiFID II helping or hindering innovation in financial markets? It already seems that asset managers are considering how tomorrow’s technology is affecting today’s research – let’s hope the speed of implementation can match the exponential changes in data volume and value which we are seeing in the wider world.

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