Lorraine Robinson (left), Bronwen Moncrieff, Tim Murphy and Jack Standing

The research industry is grappling with challenges in recruitment and retention, conflicts in pricing models, and whether there are too many players – or not enough – in the space.

The regulator has up until now kept its focus off research, but that could change, prompting questions for industry players around whether research can continue to operate under the widely established and accepted models in the future.

It’s a conversation explored by key industry players at the Professional Planner Researcher Forum, held in Sydney earlier this month.

The research industry has been made up of three dominant players – Morningstar, Lonsec and Zenith – for more than a decade, which Insight Investment Consultants head of research Tim Murphy said isn’t healthy given the importance of competition in any industry sector.

An audience member also pointed out that research house consultants are circling the Australian market, bolstering competition. Murphy asserted advisers want locally owned firms.

“Being able to sit in front of the Australian licensees and letting them know that they are dealing directly with the owners brings value to the table,” he said.

Zenith is now part of a large global organisation after it was acquired by FE fundinfo in late 2021, but that ownership change hasn’t impacted the work being undertaken in-house, Zenith general manager and head of research Bronwen Moncrieff said.

“There are a lot of advantages to the change, and we still think and run locally like a small business,” Moncrieff said.

The financial backing counts for a lot, according to Lonsec Research executive director Lorraine Robinson, who adds that having the grunt of a well-funded parent company covers the cost of significant investment in the business.

“We’re always looking for more efficient ways to create and deliver our research,” Moncrieff said.

It’s an expensive business, because delivering quality research at the breadth that is required from a regulatory perspective adds up, Moncrieff added.

“The regulatory changes and subsequent structural changes in the industry means that advisers need access to a good breadth of research, which has driven the need for detailed, comprehensive research,” Moncrieff said. “There’s massive change coming for us in that space.”

WT Financial Group group head of advice Jack Standing said the advice licensee has no current interest in creating licensee investment solutions or managed accounts to offer advisers.

“We made a conscious decision to build a sustainable licensee in the sense it needs to be able to stand up in its own right for licensing purposes and not rely on cross subsidisation from other areas,” Standing said.

“That may be a direction the business goes in down the line, but that’s certainly not something that’s being considered today.”

After 17 years at Morningstar, Murphy made the jump to join Insight Investment Consultants in August and the firm will have its hard launch in early 2024.

He’s adamant that the industry is due for a shakeup. “When was the last time anyone actually read 10 or 12 pages of a research report from any of the research houses?” Murphy said.

“From a fund manager perspective, are there really going to be 1000-plus fund managers out there in five years’ time that need checks? Our business model is predicated on the basis that that won’t be the case.”

Meanwhile, the panel broadly agreed the industry has suffered from talent shortages in the last two or three years.

Lonsec’s Robinson says structural internalisation within the super funds has sucked a lot of analytical talent out of the market, which Lonsec has dealt with by expanding its skills based in the research team, while embracing flexible working has expanded its skill base organically.

Murphy indicated that talent within large firms have approached him in recent months and doesn’t feel concerned by the talent shortage.

“From my perspective, it’s an interesting time to be building a team,” Murphy said.

Whether this talent shortage affected how licensees and advice practices might perceive a researcher, WT’s Standing said “adequate resources” was important.

“It depends on what you’re doing and what you’re putting yourself out to do, as to whether 10 people could do that adequately or whether you would potentially need more,” Standing said.

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