Financial Institutions Sector Report

Sector Report by Jamie Biswas, 29 January 2021


The financial institutions sector provides a unique proposition. The industry is very mature and developed in the US and Europe but rapidly growing in developing markets. The industry is constantly evolving due to regulatory changes whilst simultaneously being disrupted by the emergence of fintechs. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on stock prices within the sector, which has unperformed the overall market over the 10 months. The recent developments of a new President in the White House as well as widespread vaccination programmes across the world, ask the question of whether the sector provides a great value investing opportunity. This report aims to detail a variety ETFs to gain exposure to the financial institutions industry.



The main sub-sectors within financial institutions include:

  • Banks
  • Insurance Firms
  • Financial Technology Firms (Fintech)

Their main business models are outlined below:

Banks – Includes both retail and investment banks. Retail banks mainly generate profits through borrowing money from households in return for interest and subsequently lending the money out at a higher rate of interest, earning a spread. Common retail banks in the UK include NatWest, Lloyds and Santander. Common retail banks in the US include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

Investment banks generate profits through multiple avenues. The Sales and Trading division makes money through facilitating the buying and selling of various financial products. The advisory division of an investment bank will generate revenue through fees on providing advice on corporate actions such as mergers, acquisitions and capital raises. Some of the largest and most widespread investment banks are known collectively as the Bulge Brackets, with J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup being among them.

Insurance Firms – Their business model is centred around providing protection against financial loss. They charge an annual fee to consumers in return for this cover. The nature of the business model means revenues are fairly consistent. Some insurance firms are Aviva, Prudential Financial, Berkshire Hathaway.

Fintech – Fintech is an emerging industry that uses technology to improve activities in finance. The use of smartphones for mobile banking, investing, borrowing services, and cryptocurrency are examples of technologies aiming to make financial services more accessible to the general public. Some large fintech companies include Ant Financial, Stripe and Adyen.

Previous Price Action of Sector Index:

Historically the financials sector has performed roughly in line with the broader market, with anualised returns of 10.52% over the last 10 years. The sector performed poorly in 2020, as can be seen below. Over the last year, the sector has risen only 3.42%, using the S&P 500 Financials Index as a benchmark. The S&P 500 Financials comprises those companies included in the S&P 500 that are classified as members of the GICS financials sector. The index contains 65 companies, with the largest constitutents by weighting being Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co. The full factsheet regarding the index can be found here.

1 Year Total Return from S&P 500 Financials (Sector) –
5 Year Total Return from S&P 500 Financials (Sector) –


Banks: The sector has a very large customer base due to the services banks provide being almost essential. For the developed markets, there is little scope for the customer base to increase over time. The developing markets contrast this, with banking becoming much more widespread in certain countries. The industry as a whole is very mature and so growth of banks is fairly slow but stable. The market share among banks has remained fairly stable over time, and I see this continuing into the future. There are many very large banks which together control a large proportion of the market but fintech companies are challenging this. The six largest banks in the US are listed below.

BankTotal Assets
JPMorgan Chase$2.82 trillion
Bank of America Corp$2.16 trillion
Wells Fargo$1.80 trillion
Citigroup$1.63 trillion
U.S. Bancorp$536.29 billion
Truist Bank$494.00 billion

Regulation has become a large factor which drives the value of banks. Tighter regulations restrict profits and therefore reduce the market’s value of banks. Recently in the UK there have been some trends in regulation centred around:

  • Increasing risk sensitivity
  • Increasing transparency
  • Increasing cross-border regulation

As a result of these changes, banks are being perceived as lower risk investments but with less potential for growth. These trends have also been observed in the US and Europe.

A recent development seen within the banking sector is the resumption of dividends by European banks. In March, the European Central Bank (ECB) put in place a ban on dividends and share buybacks for Eurozone banks, in order to retain capital. The Bank of England (BoE) also made similar restrictions whilst the Federal Reserve was more relaxed, opting to place a cap on dividends as opposed to an outright ban. Strict lockdowns and the new vaccines combined with strong pressures from within the industry have convinced the central banks to allow dividends and share buybacks to resume from Q1 2021, although there are certain restrictions. This positive development for the industry will serve to remove the ceiling placed on bank stocks, as they become magnitudes more attractive now that they can return capital to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.

Insurance Firms:

Similar to banks, the insurance industry is well established. However, over the last few years there has been a high level of consolidation. The growing rate of consolidation in the sector is being attributed to several competing pressures facing the industry, including: increasing competition, ongoing cost pressures, inefficient legacy technology, mounting regulatory requirements, and poor financial performance. Large insurance players are aware that they cannot achieve their strategic objectives through organic growth alone. They are looking to M&A and partnerships as their path to achieving their strategic objectives of scale and sustainable long-term growth. However, mergers in the insurance industry have brought many challenges and obstacles. Newly merged companies have to grapple with operating in a new assemblage of markets and countries, complying with multiple sets of regulations, and rationalising their various legacy and cloud-based technology systems. A staggering 70% of M&As in the sector are unable to deliver the expected operational synergies. This is a critical component to the success of mergers, and failure to achieve the optimum level of integration between merged companies can lead to costly operational impediments. The six largest insurance firms in the US are listed below.

Insurance FirmTotal Assets
Prudential Financial$896.55 billion
Berkshire Hathaway$817.73 billion
Metlife$740.46 billion
AIG$525.06 billion
Lincoln Financial Group$334.76 billion
New York Life$330.81 billion


The Fintech sector is rearranging and consolidating to become a real contender in the consumer banking industry. This reorganization seems especially needed in the payments sector, where M&A activity has grown exponentially in the last three years. Although there is still a lot of deal making expected to happen in the next few years, this reshuffle has ended up with four noticeable key players that will be likely to concentrate the sector even further. Europe looks like the region where most of this deal making will be taking place, as it is still the most fragmented market of all. Dutch and Italian market leaders, Adyen and Nexi respectively, are expected to lead the M&A activity in Europe for the next few years. The six largest fintechs in the US are listed below.

FintechTotal Assets
Stripe$35 billion
Ripple$10 billion
Coinbase$8.1 billion
Robinhood$7.6 billion
Chime$5.8 billion
Plaid$5.3 billion


Listed below is key financial information and metrics for sub-sectors within financial institutions. Data for fintech companies hasn’t been included due to the relatively new nature of the industry and broad scope of what is defined as ‘fintech’. This combination of factors means that aggregate data for fintech companies is not representative of the individual firms within the sub-sector. The previously defined sub-sector ‘Banks’ has been further split into ‘Investment Banks’ and ‘Commercial Banks’.

All data is from 2020 and therefore some indicators have been affected by Covid to a certain extent.

 Financial Strength
 Leverage Ratio (TTM)Quick RatioInterest Coverage (TTM)Total Debt to Equity (TTM)
Investment Banks8.260.292.620.22
Commercial Banks7.
Insurance Firms11.
All data from
 Price/EarningsPrice/Free Cash FlowPrice/Book
Investment Banks13.197.850.90
Commercial Banks17.8711.31.08
Insurance Firms18.242.850.46
All data from


Banks: Covid-19 has had significant effects on banks across the world. In times of low economic output and demand, central banks cut interest rates in order to stimulate the economy and prevent recession. This reduces the margin banks can make when lending to households and firms, leading to lower profits for retail banks. Retail banks have also created massive loan loss provisions, damaging profits further. The pandemic has also affected revenues within investment banks. For some banks, deal flow is high, as record low interest rates encourage firms to borrow and invest. Whereas other banks have seen inconsistent business as uncertainty reduces activity. In these circumstances, diversification of revenues is essential. The large international banks such as Bank of America or Citigroup tend to be well-diversified across investment banking, wholesale and consumer lending as well as asset and wealth management. But many smaller banks are less diversified and as a result have seen large losses since the start of the pandemic.

Insurance Companies: Covid-19 has forced insurers to adopt remote and digital ways of working, so it is undoubtedly set to drive a wider acceleration of technology adoption across the industry. This is a trend that has already been seen across the industry for years but the pandemic is speeding it up. For example, insurers in China have started to adopt block chain technology to share information between health providers and insurers. Insurers have also started to adopt AI and intelligent automation as well as the use of IoT and Big Data technologies, in order to speed up and streamline certain processes such as pricing, underwriting, claims handling and fraud management.

Fintechs: The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the importance of digitization. The use of ATMs and cash has significantly fallen; bank branches are closed or operating on reduced hours, and footfalls may not return to their previous levels for the foreseeable future. Fintechs are well positioned to survive the pandemic because of their lean operating models and structures. The total cost of operation for a Fintech may be as much as 70% lower than a standard retail bank. Their systems are more flexible, and can be scaled at lower cost. These aforementioned factors play strongly to the Fintech model and as a result we can expect to see demand and interest in the cloud enabled, agile services they offer across the financial services ecosystem rising strongly over the coming months and years.

Overall Market: A significant development has affected the macro-outlook recently. The approval of several Covid-19 vaccines is speeding up the timeline for economic recovery, with major economies expecting populations to be vaccinated by the end of 2021. This is of course great for the whole stock market, including financial institutions, with a large pick up in the use of financial services expected next year.

In addition to the widespread use of vaccines, Biden becoming President of the US will result in a further boost to stock markets globally. Biden’s belief in large stimulus programmes will help to support the US stock market throughout early to mid-2021. This fact combined with the Federal Reserve’s large scale asset purchase programmes (Quantitative Easing), will mean the stock market is likely to continue pushing upwards over the next few months. The massive bull run will slow down once the Pandemic is in control and fiscal policy is reversed to a contractionary stance.


ETF Picks:

Banks – Xtrackers MSCI USA Banks UCITS ETF

Price (28/01/2021)1,414.20p
Expense Ratio0.12%
Asset Class StyleValue
RegionNorth America

The investment objective of the fund is to track the performance of the underlying asset, which is the MSCI USA Banks 20/35 Capped Index. This ETF offers exposure to U.S. banking institutions, delivering access to a narrow slice of the financial sector that has historically exhibited significant volatility but is capable of turning in big performances over a short period of time. This fund can be useful for establishing a tactical tilt towards financial stocks, and may be an efficient way to go “bargain hunting” after big sell-offs in financial stocks.

Top 5 Holdings% of ETF
JPMorgan Chase32.05%
Bank of America Corp16.83%
Citigroup Inc10.42%
Wells Fargo & Co9.77%
Truist Financial Corp5.73%

Insurance – iShares STOXX Europe 600 Insurance UCITS ETF

Price (28/01/2021)€ 27.32
Expense Ratio0.46%
Asset Class StyleGrowth

The iShares STOXX Europe 600 Insurance is an exchange traded fund that aims to track the performance of the STOXX Europe 600 Insurance Index as closely as possible. This ETF gives investors a way to gain exposure to insurance companies, a sub-sector of the financial sector that offers a unique risk/return profile relative to traditional financial exposure. Insurance companies tend to be far less volatile and tend to be more conservative.

Top 5 Holdings% of ETF
Allianz SE17.83%
Zurich Insurance Group11.27%
AXA SA8.81%
Prudential PLC7.68%

Fintech – Invesco Markets PLC KBW NASDAQ Fintech ETF

Price (28/01/2021)$41.85
Expense Ratio0.49%
Asset Class StyleGrowth
RegionNorth America

The Invesco KBW NASDAQ Fintech UCITS ETF aims to provide the performance of the KBW NASDAQ Financial Technology Total Return (Net) Index This ETF provides exposure to a variety of U.S based fintechs focused on aggressive growth.

Top 5 Holdings% of ETF
Meta Financial Group3.15%
LendingClub Corp2.96%
Alliance Data Systems2.92%
Axos Financial2.81%
Square Inc2.66%

X-Trackers MSCI World Financials Index

Price (28/01/2021)$19.97
Expense Ratio0.30%
Asset Class StyleValue

The X-Trackers MSCI World Financials Index aims to reflect the performance of the MSCI World Financials Total Return Index. The index is more diversified than the previous three suggestions and combines companies from each vertical. The top region within the index in the United States, accounting for 50.63%, with Europe and Canada accounting for a further 33.39% collectively. This ETF would be ideal for a passive investor seeking a value investment.

Top 5 Holdings% of ETF
JPMorgan Chase5.86%
Berkshire Hathaway4.92%
Bank of America Corp3.58%
AIA Group Ltd2.26%
Citigroup Inc1.94%


The four ETFs provided offer a range of options for gaining exposure to the financial institutions sector. There are both value and growth ETFs, therefore catering to different investment philosophies. For a fairly passive investor, these ETFs can be held for a medium to long period, (3+ years). This time horizon is long enough to ensure any recession/bear market is passed by. However, a more active investor may wish to hold these ETFs for the next 4-6 months whilst the global economy is protected by governments and central banks, with a view to sell once any upcoming recession becomes likely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *