Top Investment Banks

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There are thousands of investment banking firms in the U.S., but only about ten are considered “Bulge Bracket” firms. The “Bulge Bracket” refers to the largest banks—the name comes from the way investment banks are listed on the “tombstone”, which is the published notification of the completion of a financial transaction. The lead bank responsible for the deal is typically listed above the others, and will be listed on the cover of the prospectus. The font size of the name of this bank will be larger than that of other banks involved in the transaction, and the font itself may “bulge” out.

The term “Bulge Bracket” has evolved from this origin to refer to the group of investment banks considered to be the largest and most profitable in the world. All Bulge Bracket banks have a presence in each of the world’s major geographic regions: The Americas, EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa), and Asia-Pacific. Additionally, their clients will typically include the largest corporations, institutions, and governments. These investment banks are usually the most prestigious to work for, and therefore generally the hardest to break into. At Bulge Bracket banks, interviews are very structured, highly competitive, and quite intense.

While the definition of which banks are included in the “Bulge Bracket” list can vary, the following names usually appear:

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch in 2008)
  • Barclays Capital (Barclays acquired the North American operations of Lehman Brothers in 2008)
  • Citi
  • Credit Suisse
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Goldman Sachs
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Morgan Stanley
  • UBS

Goldman Sachs is generally regarded as the leading investment bank in most business areas, and is the toughest Bulge Bracket investment bank to break into. Goldman has a very strong reputation within the industry and among corporations. They advise on the majority of high profile M&A deals and other major transactions.


A “Boutique” investment bank is considerably smaller than a “Bulge Bracket” investment bank and typically focuses exclusively on advisory services (generally M&A), because it has fewer resources available to consistently execute other types of corporate transactions for its clients (such as equity offerings).  Boutiques provide the same type of advisory services for corporations as Bulge Bracket firms do, but usually work on smaller deals than they do.

That said, a few Boutique investment banks have reputations on par with those of the Bulge Bracket firms. This is primarily due to high-profile investment bankers leaving their Bulge Bracket firms in order to launch their own investment banks. In certain cases, it is actually harder to obtain a job at some of the prestigious Boutiques than it is to do so at a Bulge Bracket firm.

Top Boutique investment banks include:

  • Broadpoint Gleacher
  • Centerview Partners
  • Evercore Partners
  • Greenhill & Co.
  • Houlihan Lokey
  • Lazard
  • Moelis & Co.
  • Perella Weinberg Partners

The annual recruiting calendar at Boutique investment banks is typically less structured than that of a large/Bulge Bracket investment bank, meaning that there are more opportunities for open-ended hiring, rather than the strict recruiting timelines and deadlines found at the Bulge Bracket firms. Thus if you find that you have fallen behind the recruiting schedule at the Bulge Bracket firms, you should strongly consider starting your recruiting search with the Boutique investment banks if you really wish to break into the industry. Furthermore, there are over 2,000 Boutique investment banks globally, compared to roughly 10 Bulge Bracket investment banks. Statistically you have a much better chance of landing a job at a Boutique investment bank than at a Bulge Bracket bank because there are so many more potential employers.

Also, it is very common for Bulge Bracket firms to make lateral hires from Boutique investment banks. This is especially the case when a Bulge Bracket firm loses an analyst and/or needs to make a lateral hire to fill an immediate need. The firm has limited time and resources to train another analyst off-cycle and needs a person that can “hit the ground running.” Strong analysts from Boutique investment banks are usually called on to fill that role.

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