I have started analyzing financial service companies such as Banks, brokerage firms, NBFC etc to find some attractive ideas in this industry. I think financial services as an industry is likely to do well as the Indian economy grows and the average level of income rises with it.

Globally, the financial services industry forms a much larger part of the economy (in some cases too large) than India and acts as the circulatory system of the economy.

The above insight is not unique and does not mean one should go out and purchase any bank or company in the financial services industry.

I have often been asked why I don’t invest or talk much about banks or financial services company. I don’t have any mind block against this sector. I have invested in Karur vyasa bank, ICICI bank and Allahabad bank in the past.

However, any company which works with a high leverage is not an easy decision. The risk management and capital allocation decisions of the management are very crucial. It is easy for the management to make stupid loans or follow risky trading strategies for a long time, before the whole thing blows up (remember Lehman brothers?). In addition, the management can easily cover up the asset quality and the investor will have no clue about it.

Any investment is a finally a bet on the management, but due to the high leverage it assumes a greater importance in the case of financial service companies.

As part of the above analysis, I have started looking at brokerage and capital market related companies. I wrote about geojit securities in an earlier post (see here). I am detailing some thoughts on this industry below. I will follow it up with an analysis of some of the companies in this space.

The business segments for brokerage/ financial services can split along two broad lines

Agency business – This business does not require high amounts of capital and is based on other assets such as distribution network, client relationship etc. It consists of the following sub-segments

Investment banking : This involves advisory and capital market services such as IPO transactions, FPOs, QIP and rights issues. In addition, this also involves other services such as Merger and acquisition advisory, real estate and infrastructure advisory and capital raising services such as debt syndication.

This business is characterized by high competition, low capital investment and the presence of several global companies such as Goldman sachs, Merrill lynch etc.

The key drivers for this business are client relationships and key personnel who have the experience and the network in the business.

Brokerage – Retail, institutional, Wealth management and third party distribution

The brokerage business involves several sub – segments such as retail brokerage services through online and sub-broker channels. Retail brokerage is a fairly fragmented business with a lot of brokers across the country.  

The key drivers for this business are an extensive distribution network and a robust technology infrastructure to handle the online and back end processes of the business.

The institutional business uses the same technology infrastructure, but is driven more by client relationships and research capabilities.

Wealth management also uses the same capabilities – strong research capabilities, client/ customer relationships and technology infrastructure to provide various services to higher networth clients.

The third party distribution is a nice addon as it enables the company to earn additional fees from distributing third party products such as mutual funds and insurance etc by using the same assets.

Asset management – PMS, Mutual funds etc
This business involves private asset management – PMS, private equity and mutual funds. This business is a logical extension for brokerages as they can use their research capabilities, distribution infrastructure and client relationships to expand their AUM (asset under management).

The companies charge a certain percentage of the AUM and hence the key factor is to increase the assets being managed.

Capital business – This is a form of lending/ trading kind of business. This business requires large amounts of capital and is closer to traditional banking

Financing – This involves short term loans against equities, client funding for trading etc. Some of the brokerage companies are now expanding into new areas such as Housing finance etc.

This business involves a higher risk than the agency business as the company is assuming credit risk. However the overall risk is controlled by extending credit against some collateral (shares or real estate). This business was traditionally run by banks and other NBFCs. However in the recent past brokerage firms have taken the NBFC license and have started expanding aggressively into this area.

Treasury operations – This involves trading by the firm on its own account. In my view, this is the highest risk part of the company’s business. This is a basically a black box operation. One cannot figure out the level of risk the company is taking to generate the returns. On the upside the returns and profits are very high, however if the company makes the wrong bets, then it can bankrupt the company (as we saw during the financial crisis).

I have given a general overview of the business and some thoughts in the post. I have not quoted any figure or charts for the industry. You can find these numbers in the annual report of any of the brokerage firms.

I will briefly cover the economics of the industry and some companies in the sector in the subsequent posts 

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