Why you care about Henry Cai, Jesse Bhattal and Andrew Low

Here's what we've learned from 2010: You love stories about major bank executives and trends. Though, pictures are worth a thousand words.

Just like most managers around the world, I’ve spent a good part of January reviewing 2010 to see what worked and plotting out 2011. An obvious barometer for a publication with a website is to scour our list of the most-read stories, in the hope that it yields an insight into what you like, not just who has the proudest mum who clicks on a story about her offspring the most.

Discounting the home page, and the sector home pages (equities, debt, M&A etcetera) the items that always top the list are photos. This makes sense; we all want to know how fat/thin/grey-haired/bleary-eyed (you select the adjective) the people we read about (and the authors) really are. Such curiosity is, after all, the basis of Facebook, which is in the news quite a lot these days thanks to its fundraising efforts and the Oscar-contending movie The Social Network. Put a photo on a website and you get hits. It’s a no-brainer. (Should I worry that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra are going to sue us on the grounds that putting photos on a website is somehow their idea too?)

Given humankind’s need for socialising (which is infinitely more fun in real life than on the web), it should come as no surprise that the top story last year was our annual tongue-in-cheek piece on who had the best box at the Rugby Sevens. This is at least not surprising to me, given that it has been in the top three just about every year since it first ran on the web in 2001, when ING Barings took home the prize. This was Steve Irvine’s baby. “I was going to a lot of these boxes anyway. Plus we gave out a lot of awards. And people love to read about themselves, or a box they've been too,” said Irvine in an email to me. “Really it was a very simple idea.”

Simple ideas are always the best. And Irvine wrote nearly all of these Sevens stories up until 2007 – although in 2003 he tastefully decided not to award a best box, in light of Sars. “We normally give out an award for the Best Box. However, we decided such an award would appear frivolous in the circumstances,” Irvine wrote in a story listed as "from the editors". In 2006, Andrew Peck and Tim Cuffe, now corp comms guys at HSBC and Barclays Capital respectively, co-wrote the story. No pressure guys, but don’t you think you should deliver a best box nod to your respective banks now? You know what we’re looking for.

Or do you? It changes over time. In the past three years we’ve written all the Sevens stories under “FinanceAsia editors” for several reasons. It means that we can divvy up the boxes on different days between a few of us, and that we can spend some of the time drinking ourselves into oblivion, err, watching rugby, rather than box-hopping. And, in the same way that we decide our more serious Awards for Achievement, we now reach this decision via consensus -- though we’ve yet to have a proper fight about it; as we have had some years with regard to Best Investment Bank, Best Equities House, Best Bond House....well you get the point.

Amusingly, many bankers have taken up the game of trying to figure out which one of us wrote which part of the story. AsianInvestor managing editor Simon Osborne’s writing in 2008 was very obviously his voice, and many figured that out. Indeed, I’d say overall most of our readers nail this pretty accurately, much better than you do when trying to guess who was responsible for the various Awards for Achievement write-ups.

But I think the real reason people read our Best Box story is because you want a cheat-sheet for what happened at the Sevens. You know you're going to be cross-examined by your partners once talks resume in the house. You want to read about what you got up to because you don’t actually remember.

The rest of the time you want to read about what others are up to. That is why seven of our top 10 stories last year are people moves or articles about business moves. Last year these included: “Nomura shakes it up and brings back Jesse Bhattal” (number three); the two stories on Henry Cai going to Deutsche and his resignation from UBS (ranked four and six respectively); and our piece on Credit Suisse boosting its IBD headcount (which took fifth). Rounding out the top 10 list were: the trend piece “Why bankers are heading East” in seventh place; “Morgan Stanley hires CB team from Standard Chartered” in eighth; and “Andrew Low leaves Macquarie” in ninth.

Even the big picture stories, I’d argue (as would most editors), are read largely because they have a direct impact on so many of our readers’ lives. The story that received the second-most hits last year was a piece called “Live happier by moving to Singapore”. Many of our readers are in Singapore or could easily be relocated there and they wanted to see if they agreed or disagreed.

Demographics were also partially the driver of the hit count for our third-place story “A question of time”, which was written by Lillian Liu and was about the China property market. Given so many of our readers live or work in China, or do business directly related to property in the mainland this was clearly going to be a winner. In fact, if we run a China property story every week until December, they’ll probably all do well, hit wise. We would just get bored of writing them.

But our bread and butter -- capital markets – are always on your radar. These stories may not stand out in the top 10, but they clog the list from about 20-odd down – deal, after deal, after deal. You read us daily and it shows.

As I try to read the tea leaves for 2011, all signs point to an urgency to get deals done. Everyone is looking for the window of opportunity, which is a touch worrying because it indicates that people are concerned a calamitous event may occur that will shut the markets. Our view, which you can read in an article written by Denise Wee in the upcoming February issue of FinanceAsia is that: “The stampede to raise funds early has largely been driven by fears that credit conditions may not stay conducive during the entire year. Concerns regarding peripheral European sovereign debt threaten to rattle investors and any sharp spike in US interest rates could rapidly douse issuance.”

Given the concerns, it is clear you are turning to us to read your colleagues’ views on capital market trends. Proof is that Q&A stories are very well read. Two of the top five stories in January look at the big picture of the debt market, notably the high-yield market, which is very much in focus. Indeed, the third-most read story in January was about a specific deal: “Evergrande scales new heights with Asia’s largest high-yield bond”.

You’re also clearly looking for the next frontier. So far, the most read story on our website in 2011 is: “The rise of the super regionals”, which Nick Lord wrote initially for the magazine. We published several stories last year about boutique firms, which were created as a result of the shake-up of major banks during the financial crisis. Less quantitatively reliable, but nonetheless useful chatter that I’ve heard regarding magazine copy is that the stories about bankers who have set out on their own are well read. Why? Because if you’re not doing it right now, you’re dreaming about it.

Keep talking to us, and keep telling us what you want to read (and feeding us tips, thank you!). That said, when one goes through the “top 10 lists” it’s easy to be misled by the findings. For example, here could be a plan for how to respond to these results: In 2011 we could shift almost entirely to photos. We could add a few lines underneath, but it would be nothing but photos and some Twitter thoughts. Then, if we chose to actually write something at length, we would focus on drunkenness. And we wouldn’t actually pen a story about someone getting fired or jumping ship. We would just write: "X left Y, so hey matey, you have a shot at his or her old job." What do you think?

Maybe not. That might be a touch too far down the social media path. But we are keeping up with the Joneses of technology and starting in February we will have an app for iPad, followed by an app for your iPhone in March. Stay tuned.

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