Where are we now?

The title of David Bowie's unexpected new single shows the 66-year-old rock'n'roll chameleon has not lost his gift for the zeitgeist, capturing as it does the pervasive sense of uncertainty felt by many.

Where indeed do financial market participants find themselves now? In particular, those on the sell-side, given the ongoing shedding of staff and the reorientation of business models.

At the time of Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour (1983), the Big Bang was still three years away. The legislation eventually paved the way for financial powerhouses that fought each other across territories and asset classes. But even into the mid-1990s (by which time Tin Machine had been mercifully melted down), most firms thrived in a few specific market niches, forcing clients with a variety of needs to operate a panel of sell-side partners.

In 2012, there were plenty of signs that we were heading back to the 1990s, with a number of banks that had previously positioned themselves as one-stop-shops, quitting markets in which they lagged, notably equities or fixed income. News this week from Morgan Stanley - which is expected to cut 1,600 jobs, largely in capital-intensive FICC businesses - appears to confirm this trend.

But it's not all one-way traffic. Some firms are still intent on getting bigger. BNY Mellon has recently announced plans both for a European brokerage and a central securities depository. Fellow custodian State Street is rumoured to have come very close to buying multi-asset brokerage Newedge. Moreover, various large American, French and German banks are planning greater investment in their securities services arms. In each case, the aim would appear to be the creation of a front-to-back, execution-to-custody one-stop offering for the buy-side.

Perhaps we should survey sell-side CEO on their favourite Bowie persona. Heroes? Scary Monsters? Golden Years? Or Aladdin Sane?