A lot of people were bitter when financial markets crashed in 1997, including an economist named Richard Werner. Mr Werner says he put together a piece of research in 1996 predicting regional currencies would crack and fall from their fixed rates. But the work was spiked by his brokerage, which found the thesis too controversial. Thus, instead of standing out as a visionary when the crisis struck, he was just one of many analysts who failed to call it. These days, Mr Werner works for himself as an independent researcher, based in Japan. He says he can give his clients a better deal that way. He is not alone in Asia. Another refugee from traditional broking, Hong Kong-based Enzio von Pfiel, said he got fed up with the office politics in the research side of investment banking. With, for instance, the territorialism which he said limited him, as an economist, from making stock picks. He recently launched his own company, Asia Commercial Economics. It is the perennial dream, that of breaking with an employer and striking out on one's own. But this is actually a very modern tale. Because ultimately, Mr Werner and Mr von Pfiel would find it a lot harder going were it not for electronic trading, the shake-up of the traditional stock exchange system and, well, soft dollars. Soft dollars is a way fund managers can pay commissions to research groups that do not offer sales and execution. It has grown up alongside the trend towards off-market electronic trading of equities, as provided by such groups as Instinet. Instinet is the group that took away a fat chunk of the Nasdaq's market share through an online share-matching system. Its main business is offering low-cost trading, but it also peddles research through its 'partners' - or independent strategists - with whom it has soft-dollar relationships. A lot of these independent strategists have a whiff about them of the industry crank. One is Arthur Laffer, a far-right Reaganomics devotee who has a bag of derogatory nicknames for his establishment competitors (Deutsche Bank's influential economist Ed Yardeni, for instance, he calls 'yards of weenies'). Other notables include David Roche, a former head of research and global strategy at Morgan Stanley, who is big on hedge-fund strategy. Just last week Manish Shah, an Internet analyst, scooted through Asia with Instinet to share his stock picks with regional clients. 'The brokerage industry has a bias on corporate finance and research and is not independent,' said Mr Shah. You can pay Mr Shah directly for his view, but, he says, he earns his keep 'by and large through soft dollars'. Instinet director John Gallagher, who runs the group's Hong Kong office, said Instinet has about 20 partners worldwide. Of the two in Asia, Mr Werner established himself on his own in 1998 and is now expanding, partly with the help and exposure of Instinet. Instinet is rolling out the carpet for Mr von Pfiel's business. Mr von Pfiel's 15-year career in investment banking spanned fixed-income research at JP Morgan and Schroders and head of economics and strategy at Clarion Securities (which folded post-crisis). It was after a brief reign at ABN Amro as head of Asian economic strategy that Mr von Pfiel decided it was time to strike out on his own. 'The realisation came to me that the kind of work I am keen to do cannot be done in a traditional brokerage because of the internal politics. 'Specifically we provide macro-filters for stock picking. Can't do that in a normal brokerage because, of course, you have your own company analyst focusing on that stock - it is a very territorial game,' he says. While Mr von Pfiel cannot offer clients the service of actually visiting the companies he picks, his 'macro-filters' offer a non-consensus approach. One recent piece focused on what he sees as the Pentagon's goals to expand militarily in Asia, a coming re-arming of the East and the 60 stocks most sensitive to these developments. A money manager who wants to hear what Mr von Pfiel has to say about economics and military defence can opt to pay him US$25,000 a year or US$50,000 for a full service including twice-yearly personal visits to the money manager. Or they can pay him in soft dollars through Instinet. With this method, trades put through Instinet are earmarked on behalf of Mr von Pfiel. Says Mr von Pfiel: 'I have to give a big thanks to Instinet.' Or, as Mr Gallagher puts it: 'We've basically underwritten him.' Together they have toured Hong Kong and Singapore. The United States and Europe are next on the agenda. The newest member of Instinet's fold, Mr von Pfiel fits the mould of the industry crank. He has a snappy, bracing self-confidence and the sense of humour of a man who is not particularly tolerant of the quirks of fellow mankind. The von Pfiels can be traced back almost to the last millennium - one ancestor was honoured for fighting off Genghis Khan. Mr von Pfiel says he has an aunt who was the second wife of JP Morgan and his father is the last surviving member of the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. The prided pedigree perhaps adds another layer to his decision to strike out on his own. As if Mr von Pfiel has decided - why walk among the plebs?