The big names get all the attention. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America: They’re global, prestigious. diverse, and influential. And they boast long histories, household names, high-profile clients, and acclaimed alumni too. They underwrite the biggest offerings and boast all the resources and advantages.
Who wouldn’t want to join their exclusive ranks?
Well, there are the trade-offs. Think punishing 80-hour weeks, a frantic work pace, and never-ending stress. Sometimes, it can be a life out of whack that ultimately burns out analysts and associates before the giant paychecks roll in. When you work in investment banking, the promises are only as good as the environment.
Make no mistake: you’ll find major fluctuations in the quality of culture, leadership, training, and work-life balance among the top firms.
Which investment banks produce the happiest employees who enjoy the best support, opportunities, and perks? Since 2007, Vault has been answering this question with its Banking 25, which ranks the top investment banks in North America according to bankers themselves. For the 5th consecutive year, Centerview Partners sits atop the list, thanks to earning the highest scores across 16 workplace quality categories. Evercore and Moelis & Company again finished 2nd and 3rd, with Lazard and Guggenheim Securities rounding out the Top 5.
HOW THE RANKING WAS BUILT
An infobase platform, Vault collects employee reviews to produce rankings and company profiles in the banking, consulting, legal, and accounting sectors. In addition, Vault delivers career advice in everything from internships to employment, as well as two dozen career guides that cover industries (including hospitality, real estate, and media and entertainment), job hunting (resumes, networking, and interviewing), and education (college readiness, graduate school, MBA).
In their latest banking survey, which was conducted in the fall of 2023, Vault received responses from over 2,400 banking professionals. That’s down 600 respondents from the 3,000-member sample who answered the year before. To rate employers, Vault uses a 10-point scale, where 10 reflects the highest possible score. As part of the survey, respondents answer questions across 20 Workplace and 6 Diversity dimensions (with the latter not factored into the Banking 25). Workplace facets, for example, may cover Benefits, Client Interaction, and Promotion Policies. In contrast, Diversity evaluates firms on areas like Race, Gender, and even Military Service. In addition, Vault conducts a survey on Prestige, where respondents score firms where they’ve had dealings using the same 1-10 scale.
As a whole, Prestige carries a 40% weight in Vault’s ranking formula. Firm Culture makes up 20% of a firm’s ranking. Compensation, Business Outlook, and Overall Satisfaction each account for a 10% weight. The remaining 10% is divided evenly between Work/Life Balance and Training. Vault’s weighting system remains the same from the previous year.
A LOOK INSIDE CENTERVIEW PARTNERS
What has been Centerview Partners’ secret to securing the #1 spot for so long? Simple: the firm notches the highest scores nearly across the board – and in the workplace dimensions that matter most. This includes highly-weighed areas like Firm Culture (20%), Compensation (10%), Business Outlook (10%), Overall Satisfaction (10%), Work-Life Balance (5%), and Informal Training (2.5%). In other words, Centerview Partners holds the highest marks across 57.5% of Vault’s ranking weight. Overall, the firm ranked #1 in 16 out of 26 dimensions, finishing among the Top 3 in each one except Prestige (4th), International Opportunities (5th), and LGBTQ+ Diversity (4th). That aligns with the 2023 ranking, where Clearview Partners topped its rivals across 15 dimensions. In this year’s ranking, the firm moved up to the top spot in Benefits and Relationships with Managers, while losing ground in Client Interaction.
In less than two decades, Centerview Partners has been involved in deals totaling over $3 billion dollars. For the most part, survey respondents have been bullish on their firm. One employee calls it the “highest pay on the street.” Another highlighted perks like an on-site gym and “free breakfast, lunch, and dinner” – which reduces the stress and makes the atmosphere there “more social and pleasant.” At the same time, a third respondent celebrates the firm’s commitment to maintaining a winning culture in a tough business.
“At the end of the day, M&A is a client service business, which means that schedules are fluid and days/weeks can be long, but those who stay in this job understand that this is what you are signing up for, and if you are putting in the hours, there is not a better place to do it. There is tremendous focus internally on ensuring that the culture is strong, and teams are closely monitored to ensure that the appropriate work/life balance is being facilitated. There are a wide range of internal programs that build connectivity both inside and outside of teams, and the firm very much maintains a ‘small-firm feel’ even as it has continued to grow.”
CENTERVIEW POISED FOR FURTHER GROWTH
One program is the partner-run Centerview University, which takes a big picture, long-term approach to employee development and decision-making. Rather than chasing the quick fix says one respondent, junior bankers are trained focus more on the firm’s future – and their place in it. “It’s a win-win from a career perspective. By developing our people into the best bankers who stay at Centerview, our clients win, our people win, and the business also thrives.”
J.W. Marriott is famous for saying, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.” Centerview Partners epitomizes this approach. One survey respondent noted that, despite a down year in 2023, Centerview Partners was still among two firms on the street enjoying revenue increase last year. And this commitment to employees shows in far more areas than the bottom line.
“The firm goes from strength-to-strength,” adds another respondent. “Hardly anyone ever leaves. Market share continues to expand. We continue to build out in geographies and industries where we have not had a footprint, which creates a ton of opportunity for young people. I often tell young people you want to start a career where the growth is. For Wall Street, that growth area remains the boutiques, and Centerview foremost among them.”
THE EVERCORE EDGE
Ranking 2nd overall, Evercore has handled large cap transactions for nearly 30 years. Most recently, Evercore has advised clients ranging from U.S. Steel to IBM to BlackRock. Known as the ‘boutique with brainiacs’, it ranked 1st in Vault’s Formal Training survey – and among the Top 3 across 13 Work and Life dimensions. When it comes to Diversity, Evercore placed 1st in four dimensions: Disabilities, Women, LGBTQ+, and Overall Diversity.
“The firm has made strong efforts to improve our focus on DE&I,” wrote one Evercore survey respondent in 2023. “Each business unit has created annual initiatives around these efforts, and has presented and reviewed progress throughout the year with senior leadership at the firm. The firm created a Global Diversity Council and four Diversity Networks focused on Women, Traditionally Underrepresented Minorities, LGBTQ+ employees, and Veterans.”
Unlike Centerview Partners, Evercore lacks an on-site gym and free lunches. That said, the dress is relaxed and bankers can work from home on Friday while enjoying protected Saturdays, according to another survey-taker. “Everyone is respectful and genuine in all facets. Sure, there are bad apples everywhere, but Evercore seems to have the fewest. Additionally, there’s a spirit of integrity that is pervasive—it’s better to do things right than to do them easy. If you’re struggling or need help, you can ask anyone, anytime, without judgement. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”
Evercore is also centered on an apprenticeship model, with senior bankers “focused” on ingraining the culture and building the skill sets necessary for a successful, long-term career at the firm. By the same token, Evercore incorporates a flexible model, where bankers can move around through different industries and product group – all with heavy client exposure.
“Another great aspect of the firm’s career development is how much freedom and latitude you get to run with client engagements/deals, which gives you tremendous opportunity to dictate the work and build client relationships,” adds another respondent. “It’s about getting the job done in the best way possible and without the hierarchy, which creates an environment for learning and growth.
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