NOTE: For an updated, 2019 version of this post, "19 White Paper Ideas for 2019," click here.
A common New Year’s resolution made by financial services professional is, “In 2017, I’m going to write more white papers to build my brand and establish myself as a thought leader.” If that is one of your goals for the year, you will need to spend some time in January and February mapping out the topics you plan on covering over the next 12 months.
The good news is that 2017 should provide no shortage of opportunities for you to show your expertise and weigh in on topics that your clients are curious about. With the Trump administration set to take office on January 20, the Federal Reserve poised to continue raising interest rates, equity markets reaching record highs, and disruptive technologies reshaping seemingly every industry, your clients and prospects need to hear from you about what these changes mean for their financial futures.
As we head into what should be a landmark year for financial markets and the U.S. economy, here are 17 ideas for topics that will be ripe for white papers, bylined articles, and other forms of thought leadership in 2017:
Institutional Asset Management
- Europe’s post-Brexit investment landscape: The United Kingdom’s June 2016 vote to exit the European Union rattled markets for only a few days, but the real test will come once the United Kingdom actually begins the formal process of withdrawing from the EU. As this process progresses, be prepared to explain the dynamics and what they mean for companies in Britain and continental Europe.
- Sector rotation as a result of Trump’s policy changes: President-elect Donald Trump has promised significant changes to the regulatory landscape and to laws, which will have major impacts on healthcare, financial services, defense, infrastructure, and other specific industries. As these changes come into focus, be ready to write pieces about how these changes are affecting valuations and growth opportunities in these sectors, as well as investors’ decisions about portfolio allocations.
- Active vs. passive management: As ETFs, index funds, and other forms of passive investment strategies continue to gain market share, plan sponsors and other institutional investors will want to know your thoughts on this mega-trend. Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, you’ll want to explain your rationale for which approach delivers the most value for investors.
- Geographic allocations in a post-free-trade world: As protectionist sentiment influences trade policy in the United States and other countries, this should have major implications for economic growth and corporate profitability both in developed countries and emerging markets. Be prepared to talk about what these changes could mean for your clients’ portfolios.
- Unwinding QE and divergent central bank policies: The unprecedented magnitude and scope of central banks’ easy money policies since the financial crisis raise monumental questions about how the global financial system would react once interest rates began rising. These questions have become even more vexing now that the U.S. Federal Reserve has begun tightening while central bankers in Japan and Europe continue to experiment with negative interest rates.
- What the rise of robo-advisors means for individual investors: As more and more wirehouses and RIAs add automated, algorithm-based portfolio management capabilities, financial advisors need to be prepared to talk about the value that a human advisor brings to the relationship. Rather than sit back and wait for these questions to come in, proactively writing about the strengths and limitations of these automated platforms can be a powerful way to educate clients—and justify your fees.
- Investing in private equity and alternative assets: High-net-worth investors are increasingly looking for alpha from low-correlation asset classes and non-traditional investment opportunities. With the trend of many high-growth companies such as Uber and Airbnb staying private longer or eschewing IPOs altogether, public equity markets can no longer be seen as the default location for your wealthy clients’ assets. Private wealth managers would be wise to explain to clients the mechanics, risks, and potential rewards of investing in private equity, hedge funds, and other alternative asset classes.
- Retirement investing in a rising interest-rate environment: Now that interest rates and inflation have begun inching up, investors—especially those who are in or nearing retirement—will have a lot of questions about what this means for their portfolios. This is a great opportunity to provide historical context for today’s interest-rate environment and discuss the importance of revisiting asset allocation decisions each year.
- Trump’s impact on tax planning: President-elect Trump and Republican leadership in the House of Representatives have proposed sweeping changes to laws related to income tax brackets, marginal tax rates, and capital gains. There’s no doubt that your clients will be hearing about these proposed changes as they work their way through the legislative process, so you should be prepared to explain what these changes mean for your clients in your white papers or newsletter.
- Trump’s impact on estate planning: President-elect Trump and Republican leadership in the House of Representatives have also proposed sweeping changes to wealth transfer taxes—namely eliminating them altogether and doing away with the “step-up in basis” rule for inherited assets. For the high-net-worth families that you work with, you should proactively reach out to them to explain what these changes mean for their existing wealth-transfer strategies.
- Assessing the viability of Social Security: Each year more and more Baby Boomers enter retirement—and the ratio of U.S. workers to U.S. retirees tips further away from long-term solvency for Social Security. For clients who are counting on Social Security to provide a significant portion of their retirement income, it’s important to educate them about 1) how the system works, 2) whether their current projections are realistic, and 3) strategies they can use to maximize their benefits.
- Saving for college as the university model gets disrupted: It’s no secret that college tuition costs have been rising much faster than inflation for quite some time. But what your clients may not realize is that the value of a college degree may not continue rising at the same rate. The rapid pace of technological advances has created a mismatch between the skills that companies need and the training that the traditional four-year university model is able to provide. It’s impossible to predict what post-high-school education will look like 10 or 20 years from now, so you and your clients should account for this unpredictability when developing education-savings strategies.
Investment Banking, Private Equity, and Venture Capital
- Trump’s impact on M&A activity: It is difficult to tell what impact the Trump administration will have on the M&A landscape. Some of his policies, such as reducing capital gains rates and corporate tax rates, may result in more deal-making activity. Meanwhile, other Trump policies, such as opposing further consolidation among utility companies or trying to block companies from moving jobs overseas, could have a chilling effect on M&A. Regardless of what the net effect is, the Trump administration is likely to have a major impact on how founders, private equity investors, and other shareholders think about exit opportunities.
- The future of crossover investing: The trend of mutual funds and other public investors “crossing over” into investing in late-stage private companies has been a major factor in the growing number of unicorns (i.e., private companies with $1 billion+ valuations) over the past several years. But some crossover funds began pulling back on these efforts in 2016. This raises important questions about what the late-stage fundraising environment will look like in 2017 and beyond.
- How new technologies are disrupting “boring” industries: Everyone talks about how technology is disrupting every industry. Rather than using general phrases like “Uber-ization,” “Internet of Things,” and “data analytics” to describe how non-technology industries are being “disrupted,” you should paint a picture of what these changes look like and how they actually deliver value for end-users. By writing about tangible examples, rather than general themes, you will make it easier for readers to buy into—both figuratively and literally—your investment thesis.
- LBO activity in a rising-rate environment: Private equity firms have gotten used to having access to extremely cheap sources of debt financing for most of the past eight years. As interest rates gradually creep up, it will be interesting to see how this affects corporate finance decisions, particularly in terms of leveraged buyouts.
- Potential recovery of the IPO market: 2016 saw the lowest number of IPOs since the financial crisis, as many companies chose to stay private. As mutual funds and other public investors become increasingly hungry for new, high-growth companies to invest in, it will be interesting to see whether this pushes more late-stage private companies to go public.
The Best Laid Plans…
These 17 white paper ideas seem like the most compelling ones to me as I sit here in early January. But, as we get into the year, some of these topics undoubtedly will get trumped—no pun intended—by new trends and other breaking news. That is why it is important to give yourself some flexibility when you are putting together your content calendar for 2017.
Regardless of what ends up happening in Washington, London, Brussels, Tokyo, and other capitals around the world, 2017 promises to be a newsworthy year for investors and financial markets. There will be ample opportunity for you to showcase your expertise and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
About the Author
Scott Wentworth is the founder and head writer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Scott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help companies turn their ideas into investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, and other forms of thought leadership. To learn more, visit www.wentworthwriting.com.