Committed to a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Zephus Limited is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Bureau van Dijk that specialises in data collection and research. We spoke to Lisa Wright, Managing Director of Zephus & Head of M&A Products at Bureau van Dijk, as we aim to find out more about her success, as she features in AI’s 2018 Global Excellence Awards as the Most Influential Woman in M&A Research.

Please provide us with a brief overview of Zephus, the clients you typically deal with, and the services you offer?

Back in 2002, Zephus was acquired by Bureau van Dijk, and until 2011 focused primarily on collecting global M&A, Private Equity, Venture Capital and IPO deal information for inclusion in the Zephyr global deals database. Since 2011, and with the continued backing of Bureau van Dijk, the Zephus business has expanded substantially and has become the de facto research centre for numerous proprietary datasets which feed the company’s expanding product portfolio. The different datasets the company collects for Bureau van Dijk now include global greenfield investment projects, global patent sale transactions, antimoney laundering documentation for financial institutions and global ownership information.

Orbis is Bureau van Dijk’s flagship global product providing information on more than 280 million companies, the majority of which are privately owned entities. Each dataset collected by the Zephus business is integrated into Orbis, as well as specific products such as Zephyr, Orbis Crossborder Investments and Orbis Intellectual Property, which all serve different client bases. Orbis is used across the world by many organisations, whether in conjunction with mergers and acquisitions work, determining strategy, transfer pricing studies, meeting compliance requirements or identifying credit risk. Ultimately, the common requirement that our clients share is to have the broadest, most accurate and timely information on privately-held companies, their company structures and their business activities in terms of M&A deals, investment into projects or intellectual property portfolios.

What is Zephus’ overall mission and what steps do the team take to achieve this? How do you integrate innovation into every aspect of your work?

The primary purpose of Zephus is to provide Bureau van Dijk with high-quality, accurate and timely data for inclusion in all Bureau van Dijk products. Great products with market-leading data enable the company to maintain its existing client base and to continue to establish relationships with new clients. Therefore, I see our business mission to be that of being Bureau van Dijk’s centre of excellence for data research, collection and analysis. This goal can only be achieved by looking at all parts of the equation, i.e. both the data sources and the people who utilise the data. We strive to ensure that we utilise the best possible data sources that are applicable to each different content set, and that we provide all our people with the relevant training, knowledge and skills to be able to work with the sources identified. As it is our employees who work day in and day out on specific geographical areas or in specific subject matters, we encourage them to feed back to us the changes they are seeing within their areas of responsibility so the business can continue to evolve and innovate. Emerging trends or changes in regulation can be quickly identified and appropriately communicated, leading to broader discussions throughout the senior management team as to their potential implications on our work. Coupled with my attendance of industry-specific events, where there will be an external view of market-influencing factors and developments, I believe that we wholeheartedly adopt the philosophy of looking to continually improve on what we already do.

What differentiates Zephus from its competitors and marks it out as the best possible option for clients?

Bureau van Dijk’s philosophy has always been one of striving to provide the best possible products on privately held companies that are appropriate for relevant clients and markets. This philosophy is illustrated by the way in which all Bureau van Dijk products are built around the same user interface and the seamless integration of proprietary and third-party content linked by a unique company identifier (known as the Bureau van Dijk ID) across all the different products. As the research business of Bureau van Dijk, Zephus also utilises this unique company identifier in all the different datasets researched. The Bureau van Dijk ID enables global M&A deals, greenfield investment projects, sales of individual patents or portfolios of patents and anti-money laundering documentation to be linked to the correct legal entity. Identifying the right legal entity is of the utmost importance in today’s global environment, as is ensuring that you are fully aware of an entity’s relevant corporate actions.

Consistency of data collection and processes are other key aspects differentiating the work carried out by Zephus on behalf of Bureau van Dijk. Our collection of global M&A data began 18 years ago and during this time, the M&A industry, source content and technology have evolved substantially. This has meant that Zephus’ internal processes have also been revised and continually enhanced to reflect the evolution of both the industry and the business. This has enabled proven research methodologies and techniques to be applied to all the new proprietary datasets that Zephus source for Bureau van Dijk products, ensuring the provision of a consistently high standard of data. 

Please give me a brief overview of the finance industry currently. Are there any specific challenges or outside influences affecting it, particularly within your region?

It is unusual for a research centre such as Zephus to still be based in the UK, let alone for it to have gone through the period of growth that the company has experienced in the last five years. Many companies that have previously had research businesses or divisions within their corporate group have either off-shored the businesses or outsourced the whole process to third-party providers in cheaper economies. As research businesses have traditionally been labour-intensive and reliant on large numbers of staff, it is not unsurprising that the attraction provided by reducing employment costs is one that has tempted many organisations to follow this path over the last 10 to 15 years. Bureau van Dijk has always maintained that by having a wholly-owned subsidiary like Zephus collecting some of the more challenging datasets, the company can keep data quality high at a cost deemed to be acceptable.

What is the internal culture within Zephus? How do you ensure that all staff are equipped to provide the best possible service to your clients?

The organisation is committed to a culture of continual improvement, whether that be with regard to our people, our processes, the content we generate or our use of technology to work smarter and more efficiently. All employees go through a detailed internal training programme on joining the business, providing them with the technical expertise they need, whichever content set they work on. They participate in annual training courses to make sure that their technical knowledge is up-to-date, and all internal training will be supplemented with appropriate subject matter-specific external training. Our view is that to provide high-quality and accurate data to Bureau van Dijk clients, our researchers must have expert knowledge of the data they are working with.

There are open channels for communication of ideas both within geographical or content-specific teams via their regular team meetings. These meetings feed into a weekly production meeting of all content team managers, which in turn feeds into a monthly senior management meeting where any ideas for process changes are reviewed and discussed.

Staff are provided with an understanding of why Bureau van Dijk clients subscribe to the products for which Zephus collects data. This means that rather than just operating within their own research “bubble”, they can contextualise the importance of the work that they do from the clients’ perspective.

What does the future hold for your firm? Do you have any future plans or projects you would like to share with us?

In August 2017, Bureau van Dijk was acquired by Moody’s Corporation from its private equity owners, EQT. The acquisition strengthens Moody’s position as a leader in financial risk data and analytical insight. The acquisition of Bureau van Dijk is still less than a year old and represents the largest acquisition Moody’s have made in their corporate history. At this time, it is business as normal for the company and Zephus. We continue to focus on providing market-leading data for inclusion in Bureau van Dijk products.

Before the acquisition of Bureau van Dijk by Moody’s, at Zephus we had identified 2018 as a year when we would look to increase our reliance on technology to help us deal with the increasing levels of content I have previously referenced. An example would be the content being generated from within China, which is directly linked to the increasing levels of M&A activity originating from that country. Over the last three years, there has been a three-fold increase in the amount of content being made available in the public domain via Chinese stock exchanges. This information is not just critical from an M&A perspective but is also critical in identifying ownership links and changes. It is imperative that a more efficient way of handling the content is implemented, rather than simply just recruiting more Chinese-speaking staff. That said, this process has some challenges, given that all the content is written in either simplified or traditional Chinese text and has minimal standardisation, thus complicating the level of technical developments needed to give assistance.

Lastly, is there anything you would like to add?

Historically, the M&A industry has been the domain of men as opposed to women. The women who have been successful within the deal-making environment have typically been exceptionally skilled and incredibly hard-working. Whilst this award recognises my contribution as a woman to M&A research and not deal-making, I do feel that it is representative of a changing view towards women within industries that were previously male-dominated. My exposure to the M&A world over the last 20+ years and more recently the worlds of greenfield projects and patents respectively, has been an exciting journey for me. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of an organisation that itself has been the subject of four private equity buyouts and more latterly a corporate acquisition, so I have been able to see firsthand what this means for a business and its senior management. It is a journey that has helped me understand the bigger picture in relation to how companies evolve and grow. If any young woman were to ask me whether I thought that they would find the sector to work in rewarding and interesting then my answer would be categorically yes. Whilst it is undoubtedly an industry that requires hard work and determination, it is also a sector that is fast-paced, interesting and shapes the global economy. Why wouldn’t anyone, male or female, want to be involved?