Samsung & Fubon to forge alliance

Two of Asia''s biggest domestic brokers are set to announce a strategic alliance.

Many of Asia's domestic brokers have built profitable local businesses in the years following the crisis. But unlike the international investment banks, they have remained steadfastly local. However, there are now signs that is about to change.

Indeed, two of Asia's most dynamic financial services firms are set to announce a strategic alliance that may signal the shape of things to come. Korea's number one broker, Samsung Securities is hooking up with Taiwan's Fubon Securities to cross-market their respective local research and combine their domestic execution skills.

Indeed, with the similarities in Korea and Taiwan's economic structure, particularly in the tech sector, an alliance based on these two broking markets makes perfect sense. Samsung's Korean investors can be fed investment ideas in Taiwan and vice-versa. Likewise the partnership will seek to capture a bigger share of mind and wallet of those international fund managers that look at both markets.

The move should not come as a great surprise. Samsung Securities has long been keen to break out of Korea. It has invested a great deal in top quality salespeople in financial centres such as New York, London and Hong Kong to target international investors who buy Korean securities - and has been able to win clients thanks to the breadth of its research. It has also just opened an office in Shanghai and it is clear that this alliance with Fubon is part of an overall greater China strategy.

Both firms bring strength to the alliance. In Korea, Samsung has a 9.1% share of the local broking market, and Fubon has 6.8% in Taiwan.

What becomes a more interesting source of speculation is where things go from here. This alliance may signal a "dipping of the toe" exercise that could lead to a broader co-operation between the two family-controlled groups (Samsung is controlled by the Lee family, and Fubon by the Tsai family).

Fubon is Taiwan's second biggest financial holding company and comprises insurance, banking, broking and asset management. Samsung controls Korea's biggest life insurance company and is thought to be considering a consolidation of all its financial services companies into a single group. A cross-equity holding between Fubon and the prospective financial group Samsung could create would form a strong North Asian player in the financial services world.

For now the strategic alliance will be more limited in scope. But if the two firms are able to make it work and demonstrate a cultural compatability, then some will wonder whether both family owners may see benefits in taking things one step further.