Selecting the Best Research Firm

By: Jim DiCorpo

I am happy to announce that I have joined Greenwald & Associates working with financial services firms in developing and delivering research solutions that fuel tactical and strategic goals.  I have long-enjoyed balancing my financial services research career with experience on both the provider and buy-side of the financial research equation.  I am thrilled and honored that Greenwald has afforded me the opportunity to join their forces.

In making the choice to join Greenwald, I reflected upon a number of critical value-add vendor differentiators that have fueled my buy-side research decision-making over the years.  It is these key differentiators that establish a research firm as unique, qualified, and distinguished to inform and collaborate on research that drives strategy.  It is also these capabilities / attributes that drove my selection of Greenwald & Associates as the best choice in the next phase of my professional career.

Key Differentiators as Selection Criteria

Deep Industry Knowledge

Perhaps the most critical element in picking a research partner is making sure that they have long research expertise to inform and design the best solution for your needs, while having deep industry expertise to conceptualize research findings.  This drives the conversation with senior management as strategic business alternatives are considered in light of research findings.  So often, research firms pride themselves on delivering “information” on time and budget.  What I have found most often lacks, is the ability to see that the key deliverable is not a deck of “information,” but rather the value-add ability to develop the information into intelligence based on understanding industry trends, competitive forces, product knowledge, and the foresight that only comes with years of financial services expertise.  If research firms can not deliver that discussion, (and it is not achieved simply by establishing business practice verticals), then the client (especially senior management) misses out on harnessing actionable, time-based, critical insights to drive strategy. At Greenwald & Associates, our leadership team brings a combined 200 years of research expertise with the majority of that time focused on retirement, investments, and insurance issues.  Coupled with the additional expertise of dedicated project teams, Greenwald is uniquely positioned to drive the conversation and turn research into action.

Ability to Drive the Conversation

For those of us with buy-side research leadership experience, we have all had those painful moments when an otherwise strong research partner (based on adherence to timetables, report delivery, responsiveness) becomes a talking head during results presentations.  The droning on becomes strained as senior leaders begin to look at each other across the board room table.  Soon, the audience has totally lost interest in the one-sided “presentation” and conflicting meetings (that didn’t exist before the research session) soon become excuses for early exits by key management personnel.  It is a theme that plays out every day in our industry. 

The solution to this scenario is being “industry-expertise rigorous” in your research vendor selection process.  The research results “conversation” is at the heart of a satisfying and cutting-edge research engagement.  These industry-informed conversations are the moments when intelligence evolves into innovative and differentiating solutions to drive the clients’ next strategic move.  In my experience, it is the research partner that understands your firm inside and out and who intimately knows the subject matter at the heart of the research that provides the best deliverable, namely insights / direction that paint the picture beyond data and verbatims.  This is truly achieved only with years of industry expertise that affords the research expert the ability to connect the dots.  This is Greenwald.

Experience Connecting the Dots

Simply, data and verbatim commentary are “dots in time” all providing some measure of experience.  It is when these elements are integrated that new and rich insights are developed.  My experience has shown that research firms tend to focus on new bells and whistles, focusing on the means toward information capture and display versus the analysis / take-aways phase.  Delivery mechanisms are often a “value” sold in absence of the researcher’s ability to “sell the results implications”.  Window dressing, however, has never made the view out the window clearer. 

At Greenwald, the tools and delivery methods with which we undertake research are never mistaken as the research itself.  Fueling each and every engagement is Greenwald’s ability to tell the story based on industry knowledge, research findings, and the ability to sense where the industry is headed which only comes with many years of executive-level experience.  When I think back to the hundreds of proposals I have received from research firms over the years, it is a small handful that ever mention “connecting the dots” as a key deliverable.  Instead, what is delivered is a listing of questions to be answered and a timetable of things that will arrive at my desk.  Where is true solution selling?  Honestly, it is limited to very few research players, especially in the retirement space.

An Established Reputation

Your friends say a lot about you.  Credibility is paramount in the financial research world.  As I have said so often, working with a research firm is like eating at a restaurant.  If the meal is good, you will keep going back.  Once you have a bad experience, it is extraordinarily difficult to engage again.  It is this realization that drives the best of research firms to see every engagement as an honor and privilege.  Much of my decision in joining Greenwald was fueled in knowing the very high level of credibility that comes with the name.  A partner with the leading financial service firms in the business, a sought out and long-time partner with think tanks like the Employee Benefits Research Institute, an invited member of CASRO which is committed to quality and ethical standards, the go-to research source for information by providers such as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The New York Times, and The National Summit on Retirement Savings; Greenwald has established itself as a premier financial services research firm.

Every engagement should offer the opportunity for an investment in the future health of your firm.  The critical value-add differentiators discussed are inherent in the work of Greenwald & Associates.  They are what make choosing Greenwald & Associates for your next project an excellent decision.  As you consider your next research engagement, please feel free to give me a call at (202) 686-0300 ext 139.  I look forward to helping you design research that drives the conversation and informs your business strategy.  I will offer to you ideas on what worked best for me as a research buyer and a conversation based on a deep understanding of the financial services space.

Careers Greenwald & Associates