Yet for all this upheaval, the investment industry remained relatively sedate. The sector continued to grow, markets continued their upward trend, volatility remained low and old debates (such as active versus passive management) were revisited again. Even the detailed scrutiny of the asset management world that promised to bring at least some change went by with little more than a whimper.
This isn’t to say though that the investment world is a completely happy one; far from it in fact as while the industry navigated 2017 in a relatively straightforward manner, the majority of service providers and commentators were focused on a spectre looming on the horizon.
The issue in question is of course MiFID II which after much pre-emptive fanfare is now with us. Sentiment towards the new regulations has been mixed, while the preparedness of businesses and their ability to meet new requirements from the off remains open to question. Cost in particular has proved a point of concern (and consternation) for many and is likely to remain so, be it the extent to which managers truly absorb research costs themselves or the expense involved in developing the infrastructure needed to cope with MiFID’s exhaustive demands. This is a real issue for many businesses and it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the financial considerations arising from the regulations may, in combination with various other factors, reopen the prospect of industry consolidation which post Janus/Henderson and Aberdeen/Standard Life appears to have temporarily stalled.
In such a context, there can be little doubt that MiFID II will be a major disruptor for the investment industry, and this is even before we consider the potential for other events (market corrections, the return of volatility) and demands (continuing focus on ESG, demand for new technologies as client bases go through generational change) that companies will need to also respond to.
For some, there will be an inevitable temptation to avoid the scrutiny and address the challenges of the coming year outside of the public eye. While there will of course be occasions when this is the most prudent course, employing such a policy generally would be a mistake – in a world with an insatiable appetite for news that is catered for by 24-hour coverage and social media, companies can quickly become conspicuous by their absence and a lack of engagement will only lead to further, and more difficult, questions. Interacting with key stakeholders will be crucial and, as such, clear communications programmes that address both external and internal audiences are vital.
If 2017 was eventful, 2018 has the potential to be even more so. Happy new year.