Reporting on research

What does the research department at an investment bank do? Lucy Mair speaks to Barclays Capital oil analyst, Amrita Sen, to find out

What does the research department do, and where does it fit into the bank?

In research we gather data, form opinions, and then express our views to others at the bank, and to clients. The department here is divided into teams, including ones focused on commodities, equities, emerging markets and foreign exchange.

Research is independent from the rest of the bank, so when we publish a report it goes out to everybody at the same time - inside and outside the bank. Our independence is important because it gives our work more credibility and it prevents our traders from having unfair advantages.

What kinds of report do you write, and how are they used?

There's a plethora of different kinds of research reports. We do daily market round-ups, and we're also responsible for weekly and monthly reports, which give overviews and analysis of market developments over longer periods. In addition to these, I write focused reports on current issues, which could be emerging markets subsidies, relationships between GDP and oil prices, or an in-depth look at a particular country, such as Russia. Some events have an immediate impact on the markets and, as our clients need to be kept informed, we quickly write updates about them as soon as data becomes available.

We see the outcome of our work on a daily basis, because we frequently get feedback from clients and people often trade on the basis of our recommendations. Research is incredibly influential because our reports and other communications aid long-term decision-making by big companies.

How do you put together a research report?

The process varies considerably depending on the type of report we're writing. The sources of our data also vary from sector to sector, but most of our information on energy comes from government websites around the world, and we also use data providers like Reuters and Bloomberg. That information forms the basis for our views once we enter the data into spreadsheets and models. In general, putting a research report together requires analytical tools, and comfort with spreadsheets, Excel, and graphs. But it also involves writing skills, and the ability to find relevant information by leveraging market contacts. The essence of a successful report is always to keep it topical, concise and simple, irrespective of how much complicated econometric work may have gone on behind the scenes!

What's your typical daily routine?

When I arrive at work, the first thing I do is check the news and catch up on what's happened overnight. I then write up our daily commentary and update a spreadsheet with the latest numbers.

In addition to producing reports, I also have to respond to client queries about what's happening in the market. I service a global client list, so first thing in the morning I receive queries from Asia, followed by Europe, and then the US. Throughout the day there are also lots of internal questions from other divisions of the bank, and we're constantly in contact with other market participants to keep tabs on what's going on.

In between all of that, I work on whatever projects I'm focusing on, but it's usually late afternoon before I have time to write anything up. Managing a work-life balance can sometimes be a bit challenging, but I think it's very important so I always find the time to go running or to do something to relax.

My role also involves a lot of travelling to meet clients, often to present our views to them at board meetings. Doing so is a very good way of exchanging information about what's going on in the industry, and is an important source of information for us. I tend to travel for two weeks out of each month, but it can be more or less depending both on your role, and what you want to do. I also speak to journalists a lot, including broadcasters, often commenting on topical issues and giving the house view.

What could a first-year analyst expect to be doing in research?

I joined the bank four years ago as a graduate in the commodities research team.When you first start, you can expect to do a lot of reading to get up to speed with the markets, and also to help out with lots of data-intensive work using Excel. In the first year you gain exposure to a wide range of different areas, and then as you learn more you can begin to specialise in a particular field. I now specialise in oil, and my role has progressed immensely. Instead of collecting data, I focus on interpreting it and forming views, and then going out and presenting those views to clients.

What makes a good researcher?

Researchers come from a diverse range of academic backgrounds, and in my team there are people who've studied everything from history to agriculture. Communication is the most important part of the job, so good presentation skills are vital. You also need to be able to assemble your thoughts coherently and to write well. Research involves a lot of multitasking, so to be successful you need to be able to juggle multiple things at once, prioritise urgent work, and craft things quickly under pressure.

What has been the most interesting thing you've worked on recently?

This year has been phenomenal because of the Arab Spring uprisings. All of the countries that have experienced upheaval have been significant oil producers, and mapping out the impact of the uprisings on the oil market has been interesting - and challenging. With situations like this one, it's not just about finding out how oil prices will change, but also learning the history of the country to understand the wider political and economic implications.

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