by Brian DeChesare Comments (233)

(Elite) Boutique vs. Middle-Market vs. Bulge-Bracket Banks: Got Rankings?

If there’s one thing I love, it’s ranking everything imaginable.

From schools to banks to restaurants, what’s the point of life unless you’re ranking everything and constantly comparing yourself to others?

Just kidding – it’s a massive waste of time.

Despite that, it is helpful to know about the different types of banks, especially since the categories have changed over time.

And, while it’s stupid to “rank the banks,” it is helpful to understand the trade-offs of working at different firms:

Warnings and Disclaimers

First, this article is not a ranking: It is just a classification of different banks.

As you’ll see, many of the groups “rank” at about the same level.

Second, do not judge yourself based on any online list or discussion, including this one.

Finally, before you freak out and start wondering why I did not mention your bank, realize that it is impossible to mention every bank in the world.

The examples here are representative, not comprehensive.

Categories of Banks

Here are the rough categories:

  • Bulge-Bracket Banks (BBs) – JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley; Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citi, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and UBS.
  • In-Between-a-Banks (IBABs) – Wells Fargo, RBC, and many European, Asian, and Canadian banks, such as HSBC, BNP Paribas, Mizuho, Nomura, BMO, and CITIC.
  • Elite Boutiques (EBs) – Evercore, Lazard, and Moelis; PJT Partners (formerly Blackstone), Centerview, Qatalyst, Greenhill, and Rothschild.

You could add a few others to this list, such as Allen & Co., Perella Weinberg, and Guggenheim, but there’s a lot of disagreement after “the top three” in this category.

  • Up-and-Coming Elite Boutiques (UCEBs) – LionTree Advisors, Zaoui & Co., Robey Warshaw, Lakeside Capital Advisers, Dyal Co, and M. Klein & Co.
  • Middle-Market Banks (MMs) – Jefferies, Houlihan Lokey, William Blair, Lincoln International, Oppenheimer, Cowen, JMP, Peter J. Solomon, Robert Baird, Piper Jaffray, Raymond James, Stifel, and Macquarie.

This list is also a bit controversial because there’s a thin line between “boutique” and “middle-market.” Also, I have no idea where Macquarie should go.

  • Industry-Specific Boutiques (ISBs) – Leerink (Healthcare), Cain (Healthcare), KBW (Financial Services), Ziegler (Healthcare, Education, Religion, etc.), Marlin & Associates (Technology), Financo (Consumer/Retail), FT Partners (Fintech), and hundreds of others.
  • Regional Boutique Banks (RBs) – Too many to list; if a bank operates in one location or smaller non-financial centers and works on very small deals, it’s in this category.
  • Other Banks (Merchant Banks, Hybrid Firms, and KPOs) – BDT Capital Partners, Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., Raine Group, Three Ocean Partners, and Lepe Partners.

Particularly in the “In-Between-a-Bank” (IBAB) category, I have left out many names because I don’t want to list 50+ banks.

So, please do not leave angry comments wondering why Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, or the other Big 5 Canadian banks are not there.

How Are All These Banks Different?

Size is the most obvious difference, but that’s not the best way to think about these categories: Many tiny firms end up working on mega-deals these days.

Instead, you can use these four criteria:

  • Deal Size: Does the bank work on deals worth less than $100 million USD? Or mostly deals below or above $1 billion?
  • Geography: Do they have a presence only in one city or region? Are they global? Are they strong in Europe but not North America or Asia?
  • Exit Opportunities: Where do bankers at this firm move to afterward? Are mega-fund PE exits common, or are middle-market funds, other banks, or normal companies more common?

There are some other differences as well – for example, you often earn more at elite boutiques than at bulge-bracket banks. But it’s easiest to start with the four criteria above.

Bulge-Bracket Banks (BBs)

These are the largest global banks that operate in all regions and offer all services – M&A, equity, debt, and others – to clients.

They also have sales & trading, research, wealth management, and all the other financial services you could imagine.

They tend to work on the largest deals, usually those above $1 billion USD in size, though they sometimes go lower than that depending on the market.

Over the past ten years (2006 – 2016), there has been a split in this group, with the “Top 3” (GS, MS, and JPM) performing better than the rest.

The European banks have also moved away from investment banking and toward wealth management and other businesses, which has hurt their prospects.

Some people even argue that firms like UBS shouldn’t be on this list anymore, but I’m not sure I would go that far (yet).

Analysts at the bulge-bracket banks get into private equity firms and hedge funds of all sizes, but they’re more likely to do so if they’re in non-ECM/DCM teams, such as strong industry groups, M&A, or Leveraged Finance.

In-Between-a-Banks (IBABs)

These firms are often strong in one specific product, such as debt, but don’t do as much business in other areas.

They also tend to work on smaller deals, overall, than the bulge brackets, but these deals are still bigger than what middle-market and boutique banks work on.

Wells Fargo is the classic example of the “In-Between-a-Bank”: Technically, it’s not a bulge bracket, but it’s also not a boutique or middle-market firm.

It’s strong in debt and ranks among the top banks there, but doesn’t do as much M&A advisory business (it’s around #20 on the global and U.S. lists currently).

Many of these firms also tend to be strong in one region, such as Europe for the French banks or Japan for the Japanese banks, but don’t do as well elsewhere.

You can win the traditional exit opportunities coming from these banks, but it’s safe to say that fewer Analysts get into the largest buy-side funds, and more tend to move to other banks, smaller funds, or normal companies.

Elite Boutiques (EBs)

These firms, with a few exceptions, focus on M&A Advisory and Restructuring rather than debt and equity, and they often work on the same deals that the bulge brackets advise on.

You’ll see at least one elite boutique on almost any huge M&A deal in the U.S. or Europe.

Despite that, these firms are still much smaller than the bulge brackets.

If a BB hires hundreds of new Analysts each year, an EB might hire only a few dozen.

Unlike true regional boutiques, the EBs have a presence in many regions, but often they are strongest in one place.

Rothschild, for example, is easily an elite boutique in Europe but isn’t quite as strong in the U.S.

Many Analysts from elite boutiques exit into the largest PE funds and hedge funds, and the success percentage tends to be high simply because there are fewer applicants.

However, there’s also a lot of variation in this category: Evercore, Lazard, and Moelis Analysts seem to place well, while there’s more uncertainty around some of the others.

Also, some of these firms place a heavy emphasis on internal promotions and keeping bankers “for life,” which makes exit opportunities tougher.

Up-and-Coming Elite Boutiques (UCEBs)

The main difference between UCEBs and EBs is that the UCEBs have much less of a track record.

They’re often founded by high-profile rainmakers at BBs or EBs, and they frequently work with their previous clients.

They’re even smaller than elite boutiques, they have less of a geographic presence, and they’re more dependent on a key individual(s).

Sometimes these firms fizzle out, but they can also keep growing and eventually become true elite boutiques.

Exit opportunities are unclear because of the lack of data. It seems possible to win traditional PE/HF roles, but the probability is lower.

Middle-Market Banks (MMs)

Similar to the bulge-bracket banks, middle-market banks also offer a variety of services and have a wide geographical presence, but they work on smaller deals.

Most deals are below $1 billion, though this varies a bit by the bank; some, such as Jefferies, tend to work on larger deals than the other MM banks.

You can exit to private equity firms and hedge funds coming from these firms, but it’s more difficult because Analysts at the BBs, IBABs, and EBs tend to get priority.

Also, the buy-side recruiting process at mid-sized-to-large-funds moves insanely quickly, and it’s tough to get “plugged in” if you’re at a smaller bank.

So, the most likely exit opportunities from here are:

Industry-Specific Boutique Banks (ISBs)

As the name suggests, these firms focus on one specific industry, such as healthcare or FIG, and often on M&A advisory deals within that industry.

These firms have a smaller geographical footprint than the others above, and they work on smaller deals than the BBs, IBABs, and EBs.

Deals are often comparable in size to the ones that MM banks work on, but that varies widely based on the reputation of the boutique.

As one specific example, Leerink, a top healthcare boutique, has mostly worked on equity and M&A deals for less than $500 million USD, with a few larger M&A deals.

That is more like “upper-middle-market” territory.

It’s tougher to win traditional exit opportunities from these banks, as they tend to favor internal promotions and keeping Analysts and Associates around for the long term.

Regional Boutique Banks (RBs)

Finally, these firms are very small and tend to operate in only one city, or perhaps a few cities outside of major financial centers.

They don’t necessarily focus on one industry, but they often focus on a small set of industries; they also tend to do mostly M&A deals and private placements.

Deal sizes vary, but many of these firms work on deals worth less than $50 million USD, and sometimes ones worth less than $20-30 million.

Exit opportunities are tough if you’re at one of these banks, and advancement is also tricky because there’s often no room to advance.

I haven’t seen firsthand examples of Analysts from these firms moving directly into private equity or hedge funds, but it’s possible, in theory.

The most likely exits are larger banks, Big 4 firms, or finance roles at normal companies.

Other Banks

Finally, there are other categories of banks.

Merchant banks, for example, operate as combined private equity firms and investment banks, offering advisory services and also investing in companies.

These firms are more common in emerging markets where people care less about conflicts of interest.

In India, “knowledge process outsourcing,” or KPO, firms do similar work for many banks.

They’ll create pitch books, crunch numbers, and do other tasks that the global banks prefer to outsource.

There are also hybrid firms that do a combination of consulting and investment banking, especially in areas like Restructuring.

If you want to work at a large bank or win a traditional exit opportunity, you’re better off going to a real investment bank than one of these firms.

There are some exceptions to that rule, but mostly in specialized fields (e.g., turnaround consulting can lead to Restructuring roles at elite boutiques).

So, Which Bank Should You Work At?

That’s completely the wrong question.

You should be asking which banks you have a realistic chance of working at.

For example, if you just graduated, you earned a 3.2 GPA (or a 2:2 with low A-Levels in the U.K.), and you only became interested in investment banking last month, you are not going to win offers at bulge brackets, elite boutiques, or middle-market firms.

You’ll have to target regional boutiques or small PE firms that might be open to off-cycle interns.

Or, maybe you skip banking altogether and go for independent valuation firms, Big 4 firms, or related roles.

On the other hand, if you’re at Princeton, you have a 4.0 GPA, and you’ve done two previous boutique IB internships, then you have a good chance at everything above.

If you have the option to do so, it’s almost always best to work at an elite boutique or bulge bracket because you get the best deal experience and exit opportunities.


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Working at an IBAB is also a solid option, and even MM banks are fine if you win offers there.

You have to be careful with Up-and-Coming Elite Boutiques (UCEBs); I’m not sure I would recommend them over the others unless you’re certain you want to stay in IB long term.

Similarly, you have to be careful with Industry-Specific Boutiques (ISBs) and Regional Boutiques (RBs) if your main motivation is the exit opportunity.

In particular, I’ve seen a lot of students suffer after joining RBs because the role often changes, deal flow dries up, or their compensation is cut.

If you have competitive offers from both a bulge bracket and an elite boutique, here’s how you can make a decision:

  • How certain are you that you want to stay in the finance industry for the long term?
  • Very Certain – It’s more of a toss-up, so you have to be more specific:
  • You Want to Stay in IB for the Long Term – It’s almost always better to take the EB offer because you’ll earn higher compensation and get more interesting work.
  • You Want to Move into Private Equity or Hedge Funds ASAP – It depends on your specific group. An M&A offer at an EB easily beats an ECM offer at a BB, but if you’re deciding between two strong industry groups, make a decision based on the people.

After running this site for almost ten years, my opinion is that most people don’t know what they want to do.

Especially in the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of students plan to go to mega-funds, but then get burned out after six months in IB and quit to join tech companies instead.

The Bottom Line: Even though elite boutiques do offer many advantages over bulge brackets, you’re still better off going to a BB unless you’re very, very certain of your long-term plans.

For example, if you’ve done four off-cycle and summer internships at banks of different sizes and concluded that IB is your passion, sure, accept the EB offer.

But if you’ve only done one 3-month summer internship, and you have EB and BB offers, you take less of a chance by going to the bulge bracket.

Got Rankings?

Most people spend far too much time “ranking” banks and not enough time thinking about where they have a realistic chance of working – or what their long-term plans are.

It’s good to know how the banks differ, but it’s even better to know what fits in best with your plans and what the opportunities from each bank look like.

Do that, and you’ll quickly realize the silliness of rankings.

As soon as you finish your current list, that is.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. What’s your view on M Klein & Co?

    Klein seems the real deal and his contacts/ reputation have gotten them on several high profile deals.

    I am curious about the overall quality of his team; is it proportionate with his reputation? Do they have the ability to win deals if for some reason Klein no longer can? Do they hire the best and brightest?

    1. Do not know them well enough to have a view, sorry.

  2. Hi Brian, thanks for the informative article –

    Can I ask your opinion on Equity Research at Raymond James vs IB at Mizuho for an undergrad summer analyst? (Also coming from a tech major so I don’t know what I want to do exactly in the finance field yet)

    1. I would pick IB at Mizuho if you don’t know what you want to do yet, as it will give you more options, and the firm reputations are similar.

  3. Lou sullivan

    Brian – Trying to decide between Guggenheim and Lazard MM for IB summer analyst position – Any thoughts?

    1. I would pick Lazard just because the overall name is better, and you’ll be working on similar deals anyway.

  4. Brian,

    I have accepted an offer with BMO Capital Markets and am interested in Growth Equity down the line. I understand that traditional buyout PE will be hard coming from my spot, but do I have a shot at getting some decent Growth Equity looks?

    1. Potentially, yes, but capital markets tends to be harder to recruit from than industry groups or M&A. But for growth equity it might work since the work you do is more qualitative in both.

  5. Hello! I’m unsure of what is “realistic” for me. I am from a heavily-recruited target school in the US, have a moderate-good GPA, a non-finance major, and no finance experience. I am a rising junior and will get investing experience via clubs. What category should I realistically aim for? Thank you

    1. It will be almost impossible at this stage because junior-year recruiting now starts BEFORE your junior year even begins. See:

      You might look to this story for some ideas:

  6. Hi Brian,

    Currently in my 2nd internship in a German IBAB in debt after done a first internship in the same area in a French brand name,
    I am worried of my chances to get into a BB after graduated in 1yr even if my school is recognized as a top business school in Europe
    The problem is, Does this 2nd internship (with a poor brand name) will ruin my shots to get into a summer in a BB?

    Many thanks for all the topics you have covered so far!

  7. I want to add that the ”In-between banks” do not send more people to PE than MM firms. I did a full linkedin search of current and previous employees of MM PE and upper a few weeks ago in both the US and the UK. Not sure about anywhere else. Especially with the likes of Houlihan Lokey, Jefferies, William Blair. I did not keep track of Wells Fargo though, just for the sake of full disclosure, but HSBC, Nomura, RBC, etc. send less people into PE than MM firms, not sure because of self-selection during recruitment or other factors.

    P/S: There are the absolute numbers btw. In terms of % size of class, I would imagine they would recruit similar class size.

    1. Thanks for adding that. I don’t think you can exclude Wells Fargo because they’re, by far, the biggest bank in the IBAB category, and the best bank in that category for winning PE offers.

      Maybe you do have a higher chance of getting into PE from a MM bank, but the point still remains that your chances are much higher at an EB or BB bank. We can debate IBAB vs. MM all day, but the real point is that you’re at a disadvantage coming from either of those.

  8. Hi Brian – What are your thoughts on Three Ocean Partners? Do they have good buy-side placement post banking? Would you say they are on the same playing field as the Raine Group or LionTree?

    1. I don’t know the firm, so I cannot comment on this one.

  9. jackthemack

    Does being at RB long term (like really no name) hurt your chances for b-school?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Yes, somewhat. You’re always at a disadvantage next to people who worked at brand-name firms. You can still get into top business schools, but it’s harder and you’ll need something good outside of work.

  10. Would you say Wells Fargo has now reached the level of DB/UBS? Specifically in Houston

    1. I don’t know about Houston specifically, but based on recent league tables, I would say “No” at least for M&A deals when measured by value rather than # of deals –

  11. Brian,

    Do you think the recent Mobileye advisory deal Raymond James won solidifies their place among the top MM banks? I know they have been trending up and expanding in recent years, but do you think this is a sign of larger deals ahead, or a one and done? ….and of course, do you think this will affect headhunters perception of the bank and have any impact on exit opps..?

    1. I really have no idea, but it takes a lot more than one deal to change a firm’s reputation. Also, within a certain category, being a “top” bank doesn’t make much of a difference… it’s not as if exit opportunities become a lot more widely available just because a bank’s reputation within its category has improved.

  12. Brian, what are your thoughts on Foros and Raine? Very little information available online. Thanks

    1. Foros I’ve never heard of (but looks like they have decent deals on their website?). Raine is well-known among merchant banks and has advised on some pretty large/high-profile deals.

  13. SeekingAnswers

    If you are at a top MM bank (i.e. Houlihan Lokey, William Bliair, etc.) – would it make sense to transition to Rothschild M&A for better exit opportunities? Trying to better position myself since most of the larger PE shops did not look at analysts from my bank.

    1. That depends… if you’re in Europe, yes, since Rothschild has a better reputation there, but if you’re in the U.S., it may not make much sense because its reputation isn’t quite as good. A move to Lazard/Evercore/Moelis would make more sense, but Rothschild would probably give you a step up in exit opportunities, even if you still don’t have access to the largest funds.

      1. Thanks Brian. I have an offer at Rothschild and was hoping to move to one of the other EBs. Would prefer Evercore, Lazard, or Greenhill and currently debating whether to hold out for a spot there. Any additionally thoughts you have would be helpful – been in banking for a year and hoping to go the EB route for better exits outside of the $.5 to $1 billion funds I currently have access to.

  14. Hi Brian,

    Sorry to keep bothering you with these questions, but recruiting keeps changing. What are your thoughts on Hines vs Eastdil?

    1. I don’t know, about the same? It seems like there’s very little information on Hines, which raises questions in my mind…

  15. Hey Brian,

    Great article! Any thoughts on where Sandler O’ Neil would place?

    1. Probably in the Industry-Specific Boutique category given its focus on financial services. Maybe you could make an argument for “middle-market,” but I’m not sure of their average deal size.

  16. Where does Union Square Advisors (tech) fall under the category?

    1. Somewhere between UCEB and ISB. Although they have advised on some bigger deals, I don’t think there is much data on exit opportunities there. And like a lot of boutiques, they tend to encourage internal promotions.

  17. Do you happen to have any insight regarding the ranking of banks in the Nordic countries?

    1. No, we do not. It’s incredibly difficult to find information on that market because they’re all small countries, and so even more activity takes place in London instead. We did an interview with someone in Sweden renewable energy a few years ago:

  18. Does the deal experience from summer internship count? My group had a lot of deal flows last summer and I was on two deals and they recently got closed. Can I talk about these two deals for my interviews with other banks?

    Now the deals I am working on are super slow and barely have any update. I know you wrote an article on working on cross-border M&A deals before and not suggest readers to ask more work from staffer. However, since my deals are so slow and I don’t have great deal experience after joining the same firm for full time, do you think I should reach out to my staffer and mention I will have capacity to help on other projects? Meanwhile, since it’s almost Christmas time, I don’t think the market is very active overall, and I don’t want to get random assignments.

    Curious to hear your opinion on this.

    1. Yes, you can talk about that deal experience in interviews with other banks. If it has been months and you haven’t had good deal experience yet, yes, you should reach out to your staffer and say that you can help with other projects (but as you said, the market always slows down at the end of the year, so there may not be much out there).

      1. I worked on two closed deals last summer and I definitely will talk about those in my interviews. I’ve started in this back in August. After one month training, I’ve been working here for 3 months. In these 3 months, I’ve worked 4 bake-offs and 2 live deals. One of the live deals didn’t require I do much and the other one is very quiet. Based on your experience, would you say my deal experience is normally or too limited.

        I’ve emailed my staffer and expressed my willingness to help on other projects. My staff hasn’t responded it yet…do you think I should walk into his office tomorrow and ask for more work? I would rather work for 24 hours than sitting at my desk and doing nothing.

        Any advice you can give to a clueless analyst would be appreciated.

        1. That sounds about normal. Most people get no substantial deal experience until a year into the job. I would wait a few days and then go in-person to ask your staffer for more work. His response will probably be: “It’s slow / it’s the end of the year” or something to that effect, so you may not be able to do much.

  19. To Brian,

    What are your thoughts on a place like Eastdil (real estate) vs RJ(IB)? What would you recommend for S.A?

    1. Eastdil has a great reputation for real estate (maybe the best RE-focused bank), so if you want stay in RE or move to RE-related exit opportunities, it’s a good choice. Raymond James is better if you’re not sure what you want to specialize in yet and you want to keep your options open.

      1. Brian,

        What would you say your overall opinion/assessment is of RJ (IB) and its exit opps, and in relation to other MM banks?

        1. It’s a solid middle-market bank, probably about on par with the others. They have been gaining ground in recent years.

  20. I am an international student who started as an analyst 4 months ago. My bank is a boutique firm but I want to work in a bulge bank for better exit opportunities. I really want to start looking for other positions and start networking, but my current company will sponsor my visa (the visa process will start next April and if you get the visa lottery, you can’t move before October when the visa gets effective).

    Hence, if I stay with my current firm, I won’t be able to change for another bank until October next year…If I start looking for opportunities at other banks, I may join the firm right before the visa process and I am not even sure whether I will get the visa in April (it’s a lottery process).

    If I don’t get a visa, I would need to return Hong Kong. However, then I would have 5-6 months experience in this boutique firm and another 3-4 months experience at a bigger firm.

    Given so many uncertainties about the visa and immigration policy, what would you suggest or have you seen any readers have the same issue before?

    My boutique firm’s deal flows are not strong at all so I am really worried I won’t get great experience listed on my resume.

    Any advice would be really appreciated.

    Thanks Brian!

    1. I think it depends on how much you want to stay in the U.S. If you don’t care, and you really just want to leave the firm, apply for roles at large banks in HK and move ASAP. If you want to stay in the country, stay and try to make a move around October next year. You can start interviewing a few months before that, assuming you get a visa.

      Even if your deal experience isn’t great, you could still move over to a larger bank because they tend to interview people based on their bank name and position/title.

      1. Brian, do you think there is bamboo ceiling in the States? I don’t really see many Asians make it to MD or above – do you think it’s because of cultural and language barriers? Given a large amount of your readers are Chinese, Indians and Koreans, what do you think it’s the best for us: stay in the States and compete with Americans or move back to home country which is isolated from the headquarter in the US or in the UK? Do you think Asians can make it to the top of investment banking in the future?

        1. Yes, there is, but more so for Asians who are not originally from the U.S. I have seen Asian MDs, but usually they were born and raised in the country. If you have a mix of both cultures, the best option is to work in some type of group or firm where you advise on cross-border deals so that you have an advantage over local candidates in both countries. It’s still better to start out by working at a large firm in the U.S. or U.K., but after that you should specialize in something tailored to your background.

  21. How would you rank the restructuring banks that are not top 3 (HL, LAZ, PJT), like Miller Buckfire, Millstein, Rothschild, Ducera, Perella Weinberg, Moelis, Evercore, Jefferies, Guggenheim, and Greenhill? Seems Miller Buckfire’s been dying slowly since it was acquired by Stifel with the senior bankers jumping to Guggenheim and other firms recently, and Greenhill’s dealflow in restructuring has also been weak lately. Perella obviously suffered from all the big hitters leaving to start Ducera. Millstein started recently but are on very big deals, and Evercore while strong reputationally, are still establishing themselves. Moelis and Rothschild seems to be strong, and Jefferies I’m not sure about… How would you establish the tiers here?

    1. I’m not sure I know enough about all of them to provide a real ranking. I agree that Miller Buckfire and Greenhill haven’t been doing as well as the others. In general, Rothschild, Moelis, and Evercore are still probably your best bets because of their overall reputation. You would have to look at league tables for the others. I think Jefferies is decent in this area, but again, probably works on smaller deals than the others.

  22. Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the article and for all you do. You are the man. Quick question –

    Would you say working in a restructuring group at a top MM bank (excluding HLHZ) places you in a better position at medium to larger sized funds?

    1. If you can find a fund with a restructuring/distressed/turnaround focus or group, yes. But it would still be tough to move from restructuring into a generalist role at a large fund because headhunters basically force you down a specific industry path.

  23. How soon can people change from one bank to another? I really don’t like my current team and deal flows in my team are very weak. However, I’ve only started for 5 months and have limited deal experience. Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Most people change around the 1-year mark, but you can move whenever you want… if you want to move, start now. Don’t try to time the market because the process always takes more time than you think.

      1. Good point Brian. Also, my bank will likely to claw back my signing bonus. Can I negotiate on this if I get an offer from another bank? Or can I get my new employer to pay for this?

        1. The easiest solution is to just say that you already spent your signing bonus and can’t return it to them. But you could ask the new bank about it as well.

  24. Great article Brian!

    For people work in middle market firms such as Jefferies and Houlihan Lokey, is it possible to get into mega fund (such as Silverlake) directly? If not, would you recommend moving to a bb/elite boutique after 1-2 years? Does networking help at all for PE recruiting, or PE recruiting is 100% based on head hunters?

    1. It would be almost impossible to get into mega-funds if you’re coming from a MM bank. I’m sure it has been done before (as I know someone will leave a comment offering some crazy exception), but it’s highly unlikely, especially with the way PE recruiting now works (extremely quickly). So if you want to work at one of those places, yes, you will need to move to an EB or BB.

      PE recruiting at mega-funds and most middle-market funds is based almost entirely on recruiters, at least in the New York market. An article tomorrow will detail the craziness of the process and why recruiters handle it so poorly. It’s not as structured in Europe (and maybe some smaller markets in the U.S.).

  25. Hello,

    I study in a “target” UK university and have borderline 1:1, but I have only done internship in a SEA regional investment bank. Which kind of UK investment bank do I have a realistic chance of working at?

    Thank you.

    1. You could potentially get into a BB, EB, or IBAB with those stats, but another internship would help. So it really depends on how much time you have left before graduating. If you have time for another internship at a larger bank, you have a good shot at any of those 3 categories. But even without one, you have a decent shot.

  26. Good day!

    Can’t find any info about brokerage companies?

    Could you cover this theme?

    1. We’ve covered this topic before. Do a search.

  27. What about Harris Williams? What’s their reputation and how do they fare in terms of exit opps?

    1. They’re in the middle-market category, so exit opportunities would be about the same: Mostly smaller buy-side funds that opt out of the on-cycle recruiting process, other banks, and corporate finance/development roles at normal companies.

      1. My former roommate worked at Harris Williams and this doesn’t seem right. The overwhelming majority (85%+) of Harris Williams analysts place into PE, primarily because of the deep rooted relationships the firm has with PE clients (represent 75%+ of client base). HW is typically regarded as the #1 middle market bank, so that certainly helps as well. I would say to generalize the funds they end up at as “smaller buyside shops” is an incorrect statement. Very few, if any, will stay in banking, and if they do it will be as a direct promote to associate, which HW seems to offer to the majority of analysts who want to stay. Hope this helps.

        1. I would disagree. If Analysts from Harris Williams place so well, why are there not many of them on the “Team” pages of mega-funds or even middle-market funds?

          (Also note: By “smaller buy-side funds,” I mean anything under $1 billion in AUM.)

          The number of Analysts at BBs, EBs, and IBABs exceeds the number of spots at middle-market and larger PE funds each year… and as a result, many of those Analysts won’t even end up in PE.

          Also, I don’t think anyone considers Harris Williams to be the #1 middle-market bank. Just to give you two specific examples of why, take a look at a few recent league tables from this year and last year:

          Where are they on those lists? You might be able to make an argument for HL, Jefferies, Lincoln, or Raymond James being the top middle-market bank, but what data supports Harris Williams in that spot?

          I’m happy to take back that statement if you can show evidence of why Harris Williams should be the #1 middle-market bank, or how well its Analysts have placed (e.g., 5-10 “Team” pages of middle-market PE funds that have Analysts from Harris Williams).

          It’s also very interesting how you currently work at Harris Williams (from your email address, it was easy to find your LinkedIn profile). I’m sure that has nothing to do with this comment, though.

          Nothing against the firm, as it’s a fine place to work, but the claims above are a stretch.

  28. natured_non-TARGET

    Hey Brian, what about merchant banks? I managed to get more interviews there for some reason. Is it possible to stay there for a year and go into PE or an EB? Is it as good as being at a MM bank, but better than a RB? Just curious if not I will just try and recruit for any off cycle spots at BBs. What do you think?

    Love this article by the way and thanks for doing this! :)

    1. Thanks! Merchant banks are fine, but I think it would be tough to move into a larger PE fund from one. You would probably have to focus on smaller funds that “opt out” of the on-cycle recruiting frenzy. It would probably be easier to move into a bigger bank from there. Yes, I would say a merchant bank is definitely better than a regional bank and probably about the same as a middle-market bank.

      1. Brian – would not a merchant bank role better prepare you for PE?

        The logic is that you could easily talk about developing the “investor mindset” as well as the enjoyment of working with companies in the long-term. Essentially, you are developing a very similar skill set to what PE desires, which would make your life, as the interviewee, easier.

        While brand name does matter, what are your thoughts about doing merchant banking at one of the BB’s like GS, BAML, Citi, etc. You get the best of both worlds: name brand and skill set

        1. In theory yes, but in reality, everything is driven by prestige and brand names, and the top merchant banks don’t have the same prestige as the top BB/EB banks, so you’re at a disadvantage in recruiting. I’m not sure about merchant banking at the large banks as I’ve never been able to find much information on it.

  29. Hi Brian, in what category would you put Spanish Banks Santander and BBVA, In-Between-a-Banks (IBABs) or Middle-Market?

    1. I would say IBABs since they’re strong in certain regions/products and tend to work on larger deals there.

  30. Have you ever heard of a firm called Lancaster Pollard?

  31. Inbetweener

    how big are the analyst classes of In Betweens? It seems quite a few of the In Betweens from outside North America only hire for NYC eg HSBC and BNP. Also is it correct to assume they are a bit more selective than middle markets but less selective than EB?

    1. Yes, the analyst class sizes and overall competitiveness are somewhere in between MM and EB firms. I’ve probably seen/heard a few more “Breaking in at the last minute, against all odds” stories at that group of banks as well. You might be right about the non-North-American firms mostly hiring for NY, but part of that is also because off-cycle and 6-month internships are a lot more common in Europe, and those banks offer those types of internships.

  32. How would you classify Cantor Fitzgerald?

    1. I knew I forgot at least one… they’re middle-market.

  33. Brian,

    I very much agree with you that people often ask the wrong question. Great article. On that note, can I get a quick assessment of which banks I should target? 3.6 GPA from a semi-target with good analytical internship experience but not investment banking. I’m graduating in the spring having accepted a Big 4 advisory FT offer, but I’m going to try to make the jump to IB.


    1. Thanks! With that background, you should probably aim for middle-market banks and possible some of the industry-specific boutiques. You could potentially move to EB or BB banks, but your chances are probably better at smaller firms.

  34. Healthcare.banker

    Hi Brian,

    I’m from a non-target and I have an interest in HC IB. I’m currently focusing on recruiting for MM and boutique banks and I was wondering if you had any insight on Cowen HC, Stifel HC, and Leerink? From what I heard, Cowen HC fell apart awhile ago, Stifel HC is growing, and Leerink is very reputable in the HC space. Thanks in advance.

    1. Yes, I believe that is accurate. When in doubt, always look at recent transaction lists…

  35. Anonymous Monkey

    Stifel is a MM bank. How would it rank amongst other MM banks (and other banks in general) and would it be a decent place to start an IB career?

    1. Yes, it’s a decent place to start an IB career, though its standing among the middle-market banks has fallen in recent years because some (like Jefferies) have gotten a lot stronger and elite boutiques (Moelis, Qatalyst, etc.) have also taken more and more market share.

  36. Chicagobanker

    What would you consider Broadhaven Capital Partners as?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      A bridge of IB and perhaps PE/VC. I’d say boutique.

  37. Very good read.

  38. LDNBanker

    Where would you classify Macquarie and RBC?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say they’re big banks but not BB status like GS, CS. They are bigger than mid-market firms though I think.

  39. I have gotten a position for an unknown asset mangement boutique firm. I have signed up for graduate programs in big companies such as citi and credit Suisse etc. however, I have yet to get a reply from them as applications have just only closed.

    my concern is thus on whether I should wait for the big companies’ reply, and reject the job offer. If I did this, one of the risks may be that it would be difficult for me to find another position as I do not have much related working experience that would help me get into a firm.

    Hence, in this scenario, would you choose to take the job offer, or reject it?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d take the job offer first. If a BB contacts you you can then interview and see where it leads you. The interview process is long and uncertain, and I would not let go of your current role unless you are over 90% sure you will have another role on hand.

  40. I have not been able to find anything on big 4 corporate finance groups (basically boutique investment banks). Can anyone comment on the exit ops here such as KPMG/Deloitte/PwC Corporate Finance as an analyst? MM PE or lower MM PE possible? Question is for Chicago.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes MM and lower MM PE are possible.

  41. Erjon Teli

    How a global boutique investment banking firm reach a deal and to they get from the deal?

  42. In what category would BMO fall?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say middle market, though people may have different opinions.

  43. Do top middle market groups (e.g. – HL Restructuring, Cowen Healthcare) usually have opportunities for PE megafunds?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Did you mean exit opportunities? Yes, they can potentially help if you want to break into a PE megafund…

  44. Where would you put N.M Rothschild & Sons? Do you think they’d have a better or worse exit route into hedge funds than a bulge bracket?

  45. Where would you classify BBVA IB?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Middle market

  46. What would RBS be considered under? It’s not a bulge bracket so is it middle market?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes I’d say middle market

  47. I’m currently an analyst at a boutique IB and may have an interview for a Big 4 Corporate Finance group. I wanted to know what your opinion about the Big 4 CF were.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes you will likely be working on middle/upper market M&A deals at the Big 4. However, since you’re already working at a boutique IB, I’m not sure if you need to transition to big 4 unless you don’t like your role there/big 4 offers you high pay/more benefits

  48. Hi,

    I remember reading a few years ago on your background check article that boutiques care and check less on background checks than MM and BBs. Is this true also for elite boutiques?


    1. M&I - Nicole

      Not necessarily, it depends on the firm.

  49. Do you think it would be out-of-this-world crazy to turn down an offer from a BB like Goldman Sachs to pursue an unknown regional boutique in a different country?

    I guess to put things into context, I am looking to move out of Australia and into Asia but can’t bring myself to turn down a role at a BB like GS, despite the fact the role would in Australia.

    I guess at the end of the day, need to weigh up work-life balance and level of responsibility vs. brand name.

    What are your thoughts? Is the brand name really that important?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Not necessarily. Yes brand name is important especially when you first start you career. However, if you’re moving out of Australia then yes you may not be able to take that offer. With the above being said, perhaps you can try to transfer out of Australia within GS (request internal transfer) after a year? That maybe the ideal case though you may have to stay in the country for a little while longer. If you’re moving to a boutique in Asia, I’d suggest you to do a lot more research because working in Asia is different and boutiques there may not necessarily have the structure and deal flow

  50. What would you consider this company?

    Would you consider it “well-known?”

    what about this?
    for S&T

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I haven’t heard of either company.

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