The Research Puzzle

The markets are unpredictable and the investment business continues to change. Is your organization prepared to adapt and succeed?

Wherever you fit in the investment ecosystem, your world is in flux.

Research firms face significant competitive pressures. Asset managers struggle to stand above the crowd. Many financial advisory firms are growing rapidly but don't differentiate themselves in the investment arena. And the buyers of investment services need to understand the providers of those services and make difficult choices among them. For all, significant changes in the flow of information have disrupted the decision making process.

It is time to step back and rethink your approach. tjb research can help you to do that, offering creative ideas that are customized to your situation.

For example, there is nothing like an independent review to surface issues in your investment process. And an outsider who knows the business, the markets, and how investment ideas can be effectively communicated can give you insight into the disconnects that might be occurring internally and externally.

The missing pieces of your puzzle might be found in the most unusual places - and in an organization that makes investment decisions, everything is connected. You need to see the entire picture.

I have spent my career bringing new perspectives to persistent problems. Today, much of that involves serving as a management consultant that specializes in the investment world, working directly with you and your staff on the "how" of what you do.

In practice, that includes a wide range of activities. At the core is a focus on investment process and communication. Other services that organizations need include due diligence, the training of decision makers, support for investment analysis, transition services when key employees depart, and the design of effective information systems. I am also available to serve as an expert witness.

I write extensively about the investment business and will provide examples of my work at your request.

For further information, please contact me.

Tom Brakke, CFA

Advice and counsel

The challenging and rapidly evolving business of investments presents an endless series of new puzzles to solve. Our core value to our clients is our ability to evaluate options, explore opportunities, and suggest creative approaches that are uncommon and appropriate. Such work can be part of any of the discrete activities below, or it can be part of an “of counsel” relationship, where our knowledge of your organization over time can lead to more nuanced, detailed, and targeted solutions.

Internal due diligence

The best organizations are continually examining how they make decisions and what attributes of their products and services need to be refreshed or remade. Yet, it’s a great challenge to be able to see with “new eyes” from inside an organization. We provide the essential ingredients of insight, perspective, innovation, and independence to your evaluation, with no political baggage lugged along. Our due diligence process is thorough but unobtrusive, and we work to find the value-added improvements that will make a difference rather than producing volumes of suggestions that are unlikely to be productive.

External due diligence

If you need assistance in evaluating a research provider or money manager, we can provide a detailed examination on your behalf, or augment your own efforts.

New product development

The creation of new products and services often suffers from a built-in insularity, since firms are rightfully secretive about their development efforts. Our early evaluation of the investment and communication strategies that you are preparing can help you to avoid pitfalls that can hamper the initial marketing success of your product or its ability to meet the expectations of your new clients.

Evaluation and creation of materials

Research reports, marketing documents, client reports, and other materials are effective when they clearly convey the essential information. Too often investment communications are impenetrable, incomplete, or unattractive. We can help you avoid those problems.

Data applications

While we are not a data provider or software vendor, there are some solutions that we can provide to you that take advantage of the services that you already have in house, thereby leveraging those investments.

for research firms

The tumultuous changes in the investment research business since 2000 have put the business models of all types of firms in flux. New sources of information, new tools, new competitors, changing regulations, and the disappearance or reduced importance of tried-and-true clients have created a landscape very different from that of just a few years ago.

If your firm is at a crossroads, we can assist you in evaluating it in the context of the evolving environment. Whether you are a broker-dealer, a broad-scale independent, or a specialty firm, we can help you improve your chances of good performance, and then tailor your work in content and presentation for the users that you seek to attract and retain.

for money managers

“How do you add value?” How many times have you heard that question?

More importantly, how many times have the people on the other side of the table heard the same answers from you as from all of their managers? Probably a lot more frequently than you care to acknowledge.

Our goal is to help you think through the issues of the inputs, internal and external, that form your investment process, and to aid you in differentiating your efforts from those of your competitors.

for fiduciaries

The easiest things for fiduciaries to do are to look backward at performance and to seek guidance from the work of others at similar entities. It’s essential to break out of that pattern in order to succeed going forward. One way that we can assist you is to bring a fresh perspective from outside the structure of previous decisions. By examining the assumptions and choices of your organization, we can help you to meet your duties as a fiduciary.

for “walking institutions”

One of the challenges of wealth is to make choices about whom you trust to care for it. Another is to be able to see clearly whether the investments being made in pursuit of return match up with your tolerance for risk, to say nothing of your values. We recognize that the issues that you face can be as complex as those of an institutional investor, and we can help you with due diligence, the structuring of an organization to effectively manage your money, or a second opinion on a major decision.

Tom Brakke, CFA, is a consultant, writer, and investment advisor. As principal of tjb research, he specializes in helping investment firms and institutional investors with decision making processes and organizational strategy regarding investment policy. Tom writes about the wide range of "research puzzles" that face all participants in the financial markets. (An overview of those writings and links to related sites can be found here.)

A Chartered Financial Analyst, Tom worked for fifteen years in professional investment management roles with American Express Financial Advisors. With experience in both equities and fixed income, he held positions as an analyst, portfolio manager, and director of investment research. He founded and was president of Advisory Capital Strategies, the firm's alternative investment division, and led a unit that created a variety of investment products.

For four years, Tom was the professional advisor for the Carlson Funds Enterprise, an MBA program at the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota. Students in the enterprise learned the investment business by managing two funds that at the time totaled approximately $15 million. Tom worked one-on-one with students on the investment and operational issues that they faced, and taught a class about research analysis, investment management, and the investment business.

From 2003 to 2009, he was the independent consultant for one of the twelve investment banks that was a party to the $1.5 billion Global Research Analyst Settlement. He was responsible for the implementation of the firm's independent research program under the settlement.

Tom is a member of the CFA Institute and the CFA Society of Minnesota.

As a client of tjb research, you may log in to get access to the items that you have requested be available, including:

  • Contracts and billing information
  • Scheduling and arrangements
  • Presentations
  • Data analyses
  • Recommended resources and research

In addition, certain white papers and other reports may be retrieved that are generated by tjb research solely for its clients. These are in addition to items available to all registered firms by request, or to the public via the research puzzle.

Please send us this information, and we will follow up by e-mail to complete the registration process.

why register?

One benefit of registering is to give us information about your capabilities and those of your firm, so that we can recommend your products and services to those in the industry who might have an interest. However, we will only share information about you based on your guidance to us. You control whether and how we can make referrals (for which we receive no payment from you).

We also will send white papers and targeted ideas to registrants; you may choose which types of materials to receive, or to receive none at all.

who should register?

Employees of research firms of all types can benefit by giving us an awareness of how their work might be integrated into the investment processes of asset management firms for which we are providing consulting services. Money managers should register as well; in our capacity as a gatekeeper we identify allocation opportunities for which your firm or team might be a good fit. Vendors of data, software, and services may also gain from our exposure to them, since our main area of expertise is the process of making investment decisions, which relies heavily upon those tools. Since we are a relatively small shop, we willingly recommend other consultants to meet the needs of our clients, and want to hear about your area of specialty. If you don't really fit into any of those categories, please register as a fiduciary or an individual.

how will the information be used?

As indicated above, you control the amount of information provided and how it can be used. Information on your firm will only be shared within the parameters that you have defined. tjb research will not use it for any marketing purpose, and will only send materials to you that it has produced if you have requested them.

Communicate with us to:
book a presentation by tom brakke
get comments for a story on the investment business
inquire about positions for consultants, analysts, and interns

In the financial world, at times it seems that everyone is in everyone else’s business. Research firms have money management businesses, mutual fund complexes manage hedge funds, equity shops trade commodities, and investment banks do just about everything. Potential conflicts of interest are everywhere.

Our clients and prospective clients include the entire range of investment firms, and encompass entities that compete, collaborate, and commerce with one another. Therefore, there are many potential conflicts of interest. Ultimately, the only safeguards are full disclosure of all potential conflicts, the refusal of business that could lead to problematic situations, and an absolute protection of client ideas, data, and methods. Our future rides on our reputation for honesty, trust, and discretion. No questionable engagement, however lucrative financially, is worth the loss of that.

Some services of tjb research may be performed as a registered investment advisor.

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