The recent market volatility has resulted in stocks officially being in correction territory (i.e., a 10% drop from their recent high), which is only halfway from an official bear market. With such a trend developing, comparisons to 2008-2009, the last time of a real market collapse, are becoming increasingly popular.
When it comes to financial professionals and the finance profession, the question is whether this correction will be the beginning of a massive round of house cleaning, as we saw a decade ago. For those too young to remember, here’s (in essence) what happened: many funds and even entire banks became insolvent, resulting in a massive consolidation across the industry. Most crucially, this resulted in hundreds of thousands of job losses all across the sector, and positive job growth has not returned to finance since. While estimates vary, most would agree that the financial sector has many less people in it than it did a decade ago, and average compensation is lower.
That, however, is not normal for market crashes. The big crashes in the late 80s, mid-90s, and early 2000s had almost no impact on the employment numbers in the financial industry. Furthermore, some of those crashes resulted in greater demand for some kinds of financial services. And some individuals were able to use those crashes as opportunities to make their name and establish their own unique methodology as having predictive properties, meriting the establishment of their own funds, research services, or financial products.
Low cost passive ETFs, for instance, are largely a product of financial crashes of the past.
If we enter a bear market, will this be good for some financial practitioners? The answer is most likely.
Hedge funds, for instance, have had their reputation utterly destroyed in the last 10 years. With double-digit returns in the S&P 500 being the norm rather than the exception, returning alpha—that is, risk-adjusted higher returns than the broader market—has been harder than ever. For the traditional hedge fund, which is long some stocks and short others, providing a superior return to a market that is broadly rising is self-evidently difficult if not outright impossible. Hedge funds—or at least the ones that are good—should be able to outperform if the market turns south.
M&A bankers will also benefit. A crash in stock values will make some companies great acquisition targets, while others will be forced to merge to take advantage of economies of scale in order to boost earnings. M&A bankers who make these deals are best positioned to benefit, because they will be helping make these deals happen.
Sell-side equity analysts are also likely to benefit. The need for research on stocks appears to decline in bull markets—if everything is going up, why do you need to do due diligence when buying stocks? But the need for research is a must at all times, and this truth becomes evident to the broader investment world in bear markets. Expect demand for high-quality and unique equity research to soar.
Who will suffer? Traditional fund managers and passive index firms are likely to have a trouble of things as panicked retail investors sell off stocks in fear and lower AUMs, thus fees and revenues for fund managers and index ETFs. Discount brokerages may also see trading activity decline (after an initial wave of selling), resulting in a very good quarter followed by a couple atrocious quarters that require cost-cutting (i.e., firing people). Likewise, frustrated and not very financially literate retail investors may fire their CFPs and local financial advisors after a quarter or two of negative returns, putting those jobs at risk.
While this crash may not look like the last one, it may have one very unfortunate side effect that is all too familiar: financial losses for main street and the financial professionals who work for them and gains for Wall Street and the financial professionals who serve more sophisticated and patient advisors.