They call it the grind. The long hours and heavy workloads. Always on: rapid response and nonstop vigilance – head down and obedient. Bankers are the masters of appearances, Amid changing conditions and mounting demands, they operate with calm and certainty. They roll up their sleeves and cover every angle, boiling it all down to a 10-page pitchbook.
And they carry their loves lost, vacations missed, and weekends worked as their badges of honor.
Maybe that’s how banking used to be – the playground for technical wizards and wheeler-dealers, the overworked and overstimulated overlords who live to max their year-end. These days, bankers – associates and directors alike – are pushing back against this life. Forget money, they crave time and freedom. They seek a more balanced and relaxed approach, one where every client doesn’t call for all-hands-on-deck urgency. And the best banks are heeding this call according to the newly-released Vault Banking 25 ranking from Firsthand.
HOW BANKS PERFORM…FROM BANKERS THEMSELVES
For the fourth consecutive year, Centerview Partners reigns as the top bank to work for, widening its lead over runner-up Evercore in the process. Overall, it earned the highest scores from bankers in 15 of 20 quality of work and life categories. By the same token, Golden Sachs again earned the highest score for Prestige, while Loop Capital made a clean sweep of all four diversity categories.
Since 2007, the Vault Banking 25 has taken The Street’s pulse on everything from compensation to work conditions. The rankings are based on surveys conducted by Firsthand. An infobase platform that conducts professional coaching, collects employee reviews, and posts employment opportunities, Firsthand operates in industries ranging from consulting to law. In their latest banking survey, which was conducted in the fall of 2022, Firsthand received responses from over 3,000 banking professionals.
In the first part of the survey, respondents evaluated their employers in 20 workplace and 4 diversity dimensions, including Leadership, Internal Mobility, Hiring Practices, and Relationships with Supervisors. To do this, Firsthand employs a 10-point scale, where 10 is the highest possible score. Firsthand also conducts a second survey on Prestige. In this dimension, respondents rate firms they are familiar with using the same scale (excluding their own employer, of course). From there, the responses are tabulated using a weighted formula. Like previous years, Prestige enjoys the highest weight at 40 percent. Firm culture accounts for 20 percent of a ranking, with Compensation, Business Outlook, and Overall Satisfaction each garnering 10 percent. The remaining 10 percent is split evenly between Work-Life Balance and Training.
CENTERVIEW SETS THE STANDARD
What sets Centerview Partners apart from the rest? Start with the tale of the tape. Centerview Partners earned the highest average scores in three-fourths of the dimensions: Business Outlook, Compensation, Culture, Firm Leadership, Formal Training, ESG, Hiring Practices, Hours, Informal Training, Internal Mobility, Promotion Policies, Quality of Work, Overall Satisfaction, Wellness, and Work-Life Balance.
Not only did Centerview Partners dominate across the board, they also gained ground. They replaced 3rd-ranked Moelis and Company as the top firm in a stunning nine dimensions (Business Outlook, Firm Leadership, Hours, Internal Mobility, Overall Satisfaction, Promotion Policies, Quality of Work, Wellness, and Work-Life Balance). At the same time, Centerview again produced the highest averages in five dimensions: Compensation, Culture, Formal Training, Hiring Practices, and Informal Training. Oh and it knocked off Guggenheim Securities as the best bank for ESG. In fact, Center Partners finished among the five highest averages in every category: Relationships with Managers (2nd), Vacation Policies (2nd), Benefits (3rd), and International Policies (5th). The only area where it remotely struggled was Prestige, which carries a 40% weight. In this dimension, it ranked 5th among its peers.
In employee reviews collected by Firsthand, you’ll hear employees gush about Centerview Partners in a number of areas: “Small firm feel”, “flexibility”, clear path to promotion”, and (of course) “insane pay.” One anonymous survey-taker boiled the firm’s appeal down this way: “Unparalleled deal flow, extremely competent and experienced management, and ability to win large mandates means Centerview is always in a position to do well in any environment.”
And they do well by doing right by their employees, adds another employee who came to Centerview Partners from a different firm. “I moved from a platform that had protected Saturdays, which I thought was great. When I came here, and observed how senior people actively try to avoid having people work on weekends unnecessarily, I realized the protected Saturday thing is not necessary—you just need the right mindset/cultural framework.”
A LONG-TERM GIG
The perks don’t hurt either, adds another 2022 survey-taker. “Our meal and Uber policies are by far the best in the industry. There is free breakfast, lunch, and barista-staffed coffee in the office. There is also no cap on dinner (unspoken $50 cap), and they do not enforce any Uber restrictions regarding the time you leave the office. We are also encouraged to go on mentorship lunches and dinners where we have the entire meal reimbursed, and where most people choose to go to Michelin-rated restaurants.”
Even more, Centerview Partners invests heavily in its employees and sets them up to succeed. That’s because they expect hires to stay with the firm, rather than seek out opportunities elsewhere, Hence, the firm has developed a high touch, apprenticeship-driven culture. It includes regular training and one-on-one coaching, where employees are pushed to stretch their boundaries – or what is called “play up” at the firm.
“Centerview continues to make career development a priority,” notes one staffer. “The three-year analyst and associate programs are built around a commitment to develop an overall business skill set, not just a narrow functionality in finance. A Centerview banker understands the full strategic, operational, and financial suite of issues—which is a huge boost relative to peers in banking or PE as your career progresses.”
LOOSENING THEIR TIES AT EVERCORE
Evercore again placed 2nd in the Vault Banking 25. The firm’s strengths? For one, Evercore is formidable in nearly every facet, posting Top 10 scores in 16 of 20 dimensions. It also produced the 2nd-highest score for Formal Training and 4th-best for Prestige. In 2022 surveys, employees laud “clear promotion pathway(s)” and regular performance reviews geared to help employees take the next step. Like Centerview Partners, Evercore takes a more “generalist” approach that exposes junior bankers to more industries and functions. That way, they can better tailor their work to their interests.
“The training is unparalleled,” explains one Evercore survey respondent. “I’ve heard from colleagues at other banks about the kind of training they’re given, and Evercore’s is a class apart. Senior members of the team are constantly giving me the chance to learn, grow, and take on additional responsibility. The sky is truly the limit.”
Quality of life is hit-or-miss at Evercore according to survey results. One respondent noted that vacations are respected, but staff is working Sundays “more often than not.” Another notes that “some of my colleagues will work 90-hour weeks, while some only 60.” Still, the compensation package is “generous,” notes one respondent who touts the heavy dose of equity and deferred cash as part of the bonus package. And the culture is a little less straightlaced than expected too, adds another employee surveyed by Firsthand.
“Best parts: Dinner is paid for each night; people don’t care if you wear casual shoes in the office, and everyone wears t-shirts on Zoom; and flexibility to work from home (policy is four days in the office and one day WFH).”
GREAT ACROSS THE BOARD
More than anything, Evercore respondents appreciate the firm’s patient, long-term planning that has made it the “bulge bracket boutique.” With that has come an aversion to layoffs, with the company instead placing a premium on flexibility to maximize talent and resources.
“Leadership works as hard as everyone else and is always focused and reflecting on ways the firm can improve,” adds another survey respondent. “Evercore has a great position in both M&A and restructuring, and can be dynamic about reallocating labor between the two practices.”
Rounding out the Top 3 is Moelis & Company. Despite falling behind Centerview Partners in several dimensions, Moelis & Company’s number was quite impressive in 2022. Out of 20 dimensions, the firm ranked in the Top 10 in 19 of 20 dimensions (with ESG being its lowest average – and that was still good enough for 11th-best among banks). Notably, Moelis & Company ranked 1st for Relationships with Managers and 2nd in 11 dimensions – including the all-important areas of Firm Leadership, Internal Mobility, Quality of Work, Satisfaction, and Wellness.
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