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The bulge bracket

The "bulge bracket" banks are the giants of the banking sector. The investment banks listed below are the biggest and most profitable in the world - and we do mean the world, as another important feature that these banks have in common is a significant presence in each of the globe's major financial zones: North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. They're not just giants in terms of size. These banks all have big reputations for technical expertise thanks to consistent involvement in the world's biggest deals and the role they've played in creating new financial products and trading systems. These banks are often where the world's largest corporations, governments and other major organisations go to for advice.

If you start your career at a bulge bracket bank you'll get excellent training from some of the best in the business - though note that if you want to gain experience and to progress, you'll be expected to contribute extremely significant amounts of time and effort in return. Finally, having one of these names on your CV will guarantee you some great options if and when you decide to move on.

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch - Its purchase of star investment bank Merrill Lynch in 2008 took Bank of America into the bulge bracket big league. The resulting new investment bank, often known as BAML, was formed by combining the investment banking expertise of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch and is now a key part of the wider Bank of America financial services conglomerate.
  • Barclays Capital - Barclays Capital (usually known as Barcap) is the investment banking arm of Barclays plc. Barcap was created in 1986 in the wake of Thatcher's "Big Bang” deregulation of the British banking sector and has since grown into a key part of Barclays' business. Barcap strengthened its position in North America in 2008 through its purchase of the US operations of Lehman Brothers.
  • Citi - Citi's investment banking business is part of financial services conglomerate Citigroup, Inc. which is one of the world's largest public companies. Citigroup, Inc. came into being in 1998 as a result of a merger between Citicorp and Travelers Group, one the highest value merger deals in financial history.
  • Credit Suisse - Zurich-headquartered Credit Suisse is one of the big two Swiss investment banks. As well as being an aristocrat of the Swiss banking sector, the institution also has a strong pedigree in the US through its relationship with, and subsequently acquisition of, New York investment bank First Boston Corporation.
  • Deutsche Bank - This German bank burst onto the international investment banking scene with its purchase of then leading London-based investment bank Morgan Grenfell in 1989. More recently, the bank has been further strengthened by a range of other acquisitions, including that of US banking organisation Bankers Trust in 1998.
  • Goldman Sachs - Goldman Sachs has been a big name on Wall Street since the nineteenth century, and now has an outstanding reputation across the globe. The institution is unusual among the bulge bracket banks in having remained structured as a partnership until 1999, when its initial public offering was, at the time, the second biggest in US history.
  • J.P. Morgan - One of the oldest investment banks in the world and one of two to grow out of the business interests of nineteenth century financier J.P. Morgan. His namesake bank is now one the world's largest public companies, and grew further with its 2008 acquisitions of former rival Bear Stearns and insurance company Washington Mutual.
  • Morgan Stanley - Manhattan-headquartered giant Morgan Stanley grew out of the J.P. Morgan banking empire along with the institution that bears his name. In London, Morgan Stanley is based in Canary Wharf - the bank was one of the first major names in finance to invest in the redevelopment of the Docklands area.
  • Nomura - Nomura is one of the few leading global investment banks with an Asian heritage, having been founded in Osaka, Japan in 1925. It boosted its international presence with its acquisition of the European and Asian operations of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
  • UBS - UBS is headquartered in Basle and Zurich and is one of the two major global investment banks in the strong Swiss banking sector. The institu- tion's current incarnation came about through a 1998 merger of Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation.

Best big deal challengers

These are some of the banks which stand alongside the biggest names, all of which operate in many respects in an equivalent way to the bulge bracket banks. You may find that the features which can distinguish them from bulge bracket banks (such as smaller offices and deal teams, particular specialisations, or still developing business areas) fit your career needs better.

  • BNP Paribas - Paris-headquartered but internationally focused investment bank. The BNP Paribas group also includes a strong European retail banking business.
  • RBC Capital Markets - RBC Capital Markets is the investment banking division of Royal Bank of Canada, a large North American retail and investment banking group. It has a growing presence in London.
  • RBS - Edinburgh-headquartered RBS is well-known for its large retail and corporate banking presence in the UK and internationally, and is also active in some areas of investment banking.
  • HSBC - HSBC is one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world. Its headquarters are in London, but it originated in China and continues to have a strong Asian business.

Emerging markets experts

There are a few investment banks in the London market which have businesses focused on clients in emerging markets, particularly Africa and Asia. These banks are ideal employers for those with a strong interest in working on the unique challenges and opportunities for banks in these rapidly changing parts of the world.

  • Standard Bank - Originally the South African arm of a British entity but now runs its Africa-focused business from Johannesburg. The bank is strong in Asia too - one of its major shareholders is Chinese bank ICBC.
  • Standard Chartered - Standard Chartered is headquartered in Britain, but makes most of its profits from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Standard Chartered's presence in Asia is strength- ened by its ties with Chinese bank ABC.

Big reputations

These banks have relatively small numbers of employees, but big reputations in the banking world because of their distinguished pedigrees in the finance sector and the sheer calibre of their work. Being taken on here will give you exposure to great deals, distinctive experience, and some polish on your CV.

  • Berenberg Bank - Berenberg Bank is Germany's oldest bank and the second oldest in the world (behind Italian Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena). It has offices across Europe and in the US and Asia, including a growing London base.
  • Rothschild - Today's Rothschild is one of the descendants of a long-standing family banking business that has had a presence in European finance for centuries. The bank is still predominantly family-controlled.
  • Lazard - Originally a trading business set up by two French brothers in nineteenth century New Orleans, Lazard is one of the aristocrats of the banking world. Today the firm focuses on transactional advice and its asset management business.

Boutiques

At these small and elite firms, teams tend to be smaller and more generalist than at larger rivals, so working here could mean more responsibility and exposure to a broader spread of transactions.

  • Evercore Partners - This New York-headquartered investment bank is a relatively new player, but is already among the biggest names in the sector. It concentrates on advising on complex transactions and investment management.
  • Greenhill - Greenhill was created by a former Morgan Stanley senior banker and now has a formidable reputation of its own for its M&A advice. Greenhill recently sold its private equity branch to concentrate on advisory work.

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