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TheStreet Open House

The Digital Skeptic: Expert Networks Crush Lucrative Banking M&A

You can spitball your big, dumb, will-never-work ideas with a GLG-provided "thought partner" early in the game. Or you can send your expert your "Precise Expectations" on data, bios or specifics late in the game. You can set a budget, compare prices, talk over reports, find a consultant.

"I am absolutely convinced," De Santis said, "that most of the people at big traditional M&A banks are not that much brighter than these direct experts."

M&A faaaaading already
If you have the courage to view traditional banking mergers and acquisitions through De Santis' eyes, the M&A business is clearly showing symptoms of an information-based market in the early stages of digital decline.

Certainly a sluggish economy has been no help, but M&A profits have quietly leaked out of banking company balance sheets over the past year. FT.com did a fascinating comparison of the percentages banks made from different products over the past dozen months. And almost across the board, M&A is heading south. Total M&A fees as a percentage of total sales fell to 32% from 36% last year. That as total fees also dropped to $72 billion from $78 billion. Worse, total M&A deal flow was in free fall -- going from more than 8,000 in Q4 of 2011 to south of 6,000 by Q4 2012.

And to De Santis, this is only the beginning.

"I believe more and more, wherever capital resides either in private equity or in corporate investments, investors can easily use their own staffs to troll these expert networks," he said, "and for a few hours of paid time get a clearly less biased opinion than from a M&A banker who only gets paid if there is a successful deal."

To these tired eyes, it's digital age Groundhog Day all over again: The mergers-and-acquisition industry will join the music, publishing and media businesses in wrestling a Web animal it has never seen -- top flight, on-demand, crowdsourced content that can be accessed easily by any serious market player.

And you don't need to be a Gerson Lehrman expert to see where the shadow is being cast on this day. It's gonna be a long, tough winter for M&A.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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