High Line Advisors LLC

management ideas for banks and broker-dealers

Archive for November 2010

“Team Selling” Over “Cross-Selling”

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[part of a series on hedge fund sales coverage]

Cross-selling” initiatives have always struck us as weak efforts to encourage client-centric behavior in essentially product-centric organizations. Incentives often work against the intent, as sales professionals understand their compensation to be driven by revenues in one product line, and annual bonus discussions fail to reinforce broader behavior.

Most broker-dealers are organized by product. The best aspects of product-centric management are risk discipline, operating efficiency, domain expertise, best-of-breed products, and an excellent client experience. Product-centric management works well when there is a 1:1 relationship between clients and products, as was the case historically. Modern asset managers, hedge funds in particular, are not so well-behaved, and may deploy many products or asset classes within a single portfolio. Without a means of communicating horizontally, product-centric organizations can miss overall client activity and related revenue.

What is needed is an approach to balance product discipline with client coverage across multiple products. This requires a “1:many” solution for covering clients and measuring revenue across products. We call the process of coordinating sales coverage of one client across multiple products “Team Selling.” The team is collectively responsible for covering a client, and collectively responsible for maximizing share of the client’s “wallet,” rather than market share for any particular product.

Harvard Business Review recently conducted an interview with Admiral Thad Allen, USCG (Ret.) (ref. “You Have to Lead from Everywhere” by Scott Berinato). Admiral Allen’s comments on crisis management can be applied to the coordination of multiple product specialists in covering complex clients:

“You have to aggregate everybody’s capabilities to achieve a single purpose, taking into account the fact that they have distinct authorities and responsibilities. That’s creating unity of effort rather than unity of command, and it’s a much more complex management challenge.”

In the context of institutional sales, “unity of effort” implies coordination among separate individuals from different product areas covering the same client (or multiple buying centers at the same client institution), and the “single purpose” they are aiming to achieve is to maximize the profitability of that client.

Using a hedge fund investing in long/short equity as an example, three buying centers can be defined by the investment decision (what to buy), the execution decision (how to buy or express the investment), and the financing decision (how to pay for it). In general, these decisions are made for the fund by different individuals or groups, with the portfolio manager, chief investment officer, or analyst consuming resources to determine what investments to make; the head trader or derivatives specialist deciding how orders are executed, and the chief operating officer or chief finance officer deciding how and where to source financing or borrow stock.

investor client wallet

Traditionally, institutional equity sales teams have been comprised of Research Sales professionals covering buy-side analysts and portfolio managers, Sales-Traders and Derivatives Sales people covering buy-side trading desks, and Prime Brokerage or Stock Loan professionals covering the fund’s COO and CFO.

These client-facing professionals tend to be grouped by product, with Research Sales and Sales-Traders associated with cash, Derivatives Sales with derivatives, and Prime Brokerage and Stock Loan sales people associate with those financing products respectively. In a product-centric organization, these sales groups tend to focus on maximizing the revenue in their respective products, without regard for or regular communication with sales people in the other product silos, even if they cover the same institution.

Without breaking the product-centric organization, management can encourage coordination or “unity of effort” across product areas in covering the same client, simply by empowering teams with information on client revenue across all products, (in addition to the traditional reporting of product revenue across all clients). With the common goal of maximizing wallet share and profitability, a client team can work together to make introductions, deliver resources, solve client problems, and fill revenue gaps across the product spectrum.

While easily piloted, the first challenge in team selling is scalability. Scale is achieved when the same team of sales people from different product areas cover the same set of clients. When this occurs, the number of virtual teams can be fewer and their team meetings can be less frequent and more efficient. Rebalancing coverage assignments is difficult but can be rewarding over time: the organization can over a large number of clients as teams operate independently and simultaneously. Team selling is also a compliment to any key account management program, with team leaders corresponding to relationship or account managers. The larger the account, the more senior the team leader. Armed with the right information, anyone in the organization can contribute to or even lead a client team.

Culturally, teams must believe that they will be rewarded for overall increase in profitability of the clients they cover, not only the revenues in the product they are associated with. Client revenue production, product penetration, and profitability can be added to traditional sales metrics in the determination of compensation.

While cross-selling is a product-centric behavior that is by its nature a secondary priority for sales people, team selling encourages client-centric behavior and awareness of the maximum revenue opportunity from each client that the organization covers.

Learning From The Past

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“A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice.” Edgar Watson Howe
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

At the end of another full year following the peak of the financial crisis in October of 2008, it may be time to review what should have been learned and to ask whether measures have been taken to improve broker-dealer risk management and operations.Five specific events culminating in the financial crisis contained valuable lessons for stand-alone broker-dealers as well as those at banks and bank holding companies:

  • The self-liquidation of Amaranth Advisors at the end of 2006 was the canary in the coal mine, exposing the difficulty of managing complex customer activity in multiple markets and asset classes, expressed through listed products and OTC contracts in multiple legal entities. Firms had an inadequate picture of aggregate client activity and were uncertain of their contractual rights across the different products. This confusion slowed the movement of cash, creating cracks in the client-broker relationship. Losses at banks were averted solely because of the high degree of liquidity in Amaranth’s portfolio. The crucial question that would haunt banks in the coming months was: what if Amaranth’s remaining positions could not have been sold to raise cash?
  • Several hedge funds, most notably those of Bear Stearns Asset Management, began to default on payments in 2007. Unable to raise cash from increasingly illiquid investments, both investors and banks lost money. The defaults drew attention to financing transactions in which the banks did not have sufficient collateral to cover loans they had extended. It is noteworthy that these trades were not governed by margin policy in prime brokerage, but were executed as repurchase agreements in fixed income, in some cases with no haircut or initial margin. Collateralized lending was practiced inconsistently by different divisions of the same firm, some ignoring collateral altogether and venturing into credit extension.
  • The collapse and sale of the remainder of Bear Stearns in early 2008 highlighted a different liquidity problem: a case in which customer cash held in prime brokerage accounts (“free credits”) significantly exceeded the firm’s own cash position. Because of this imbalance, Bear Stearns was essentially undermined by its own clients as hedge funds withdrew their cash. Once the customer cash was gone, the firm could not replace it fast enough from secured or unsecured sources of its own. Bear Stearns’ predicament forced the prime brokerage industry to confront some hard truths: Because firms had developed a dependency on customer cash and securities in the management of their own balance sheets, sources of cash and their stability were not fully understood even by corporate treasuries.
  • The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008 exposed the widespread practice of financing an illiquid balance sheet in a decentralized manner with short-term liabilities. Under the assumption that the world was awash in liquidity and ready cash, many firms had neither the systems to manage daily cash balances nor contingencies in the event that short-term funding sources became scarce. The problems of Lehman and its investors were compounded by intra-company transfers and cash trapped in various legal entities.
  • The Madoff scandal that broke the following December was in some ways the last straw for asset owners. Already concerned about the health of the banking system and the idiosyncratic risk of fund selection, they lost confidence in the industry’s infrastructure and controls. Banks now contend with demand for greater asset protection and transparency of information.

In summary, the actions suggested by these five events are as follows:

  1. Aggregate the activities of any one client across all products and legal entities of the bank or broker-dealer
  2. Establish consistent secured lending guidelines across similar products to ensure liquidity
  3. Develop transparency of all sources and uses of cash to minimize reliance on unsecured funding [see Collateral Management: Best Practices for Broker-Dealers]
  4. Match assets and liabilities to term
  5. Prepare for segregation of customer collateral with operations, reporting, and alternative funding sources
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