Independent thinkers wanted

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If Chinese walls bother you, you might find your niche in an independent equities research house.

The two main Australian independent houses, Aegis and Fat Prophets, started seven years ago and both are growing.

"We opened in 2000 and set up a London office in 2003," says Greg Canavan, senior analyst at Fat Prophets. "We are growing and have put on a few more researchers at the start of the year. Our subscriber base is expanding strongly, so our back-office numbers have really grown too," he adds.

Fat Prophets has around 25 staff at its Sydney headquarters, six of whom are researchers, plus six people in its London office. "We are looking to open an office in New York later this year."

John Kessell, head of research at Aegis, says two things are driving growth: "Increased use of online brokers who do not have their own research wings and the explosion of financial planners who need information they can rely on."

Aegis is 45-strong in Australia, with about half the workforce being researchers. Finding staff is said to be relatively easy - Kessell says many applicants prefer work in the independent research sector.

And money? Don't bet on earning the same as researchers in banks or brokerages - at independent research houses, pay isn't bolstered by profits generated by equity sales teams. One recruiter, who didn't want to be named, said a researcher with five years' experience who works at an independent house can expect AU$100 to AU$120k with a bonus not above 40%. He also said independent research houses will open doors for people with industry expertise but no financial background. "They might hire a geologist, and train him up in financial modelling and research for resources stocks."