Picture an investment banker. You probably visualize an alpha, who deftly moves money around the globe from his Wall Street digs. He works with the finest companies and wealthiest investors, running point on the IPOs and bond offerings that make headlines. Chances are, you’re also imagining a life of never-ending parties, weekends spent on soft slopes and lavish dinners – stylish couture and shiny Porsches. It’s a different world, a sense that nothing is out of reach…an impulse to never stop chasing.
Power and privilege. Inside and elite. Always the finest, cost be damned. That’s the investment banking brand. In a world of grand plans and old boy handshakes, there is no bigger name than Goldman Sachs. It is the “gold standard,” home of the best talents, richest history, and deepest connections – at least that’s how it is positioned. For three years, Goldman Sachs has sat atop Vault’s Banking 50 ranking. Despite lagging behind its peers in many measures, Goldman Sachs could always coast on its name, shielded by its reputation.
That is, until now.
SURVEY RESPONSE RATE UP BY 15%
When the mighty tumble, the fall is swift and harsh. The Vault Banking 50 is no exception. Not only did Goldman Sachs lose the top spot in 2020, but it dropped to 3rd overall. Evercore, the long-time heir to the throne, produced its best-ever score ever – and again finished 2nd. Indeed, there was a true changing of the guard as Centerview Partners leapfrogged Evercore and Goldman Sachs to claim #1. It was a long journey for Centerview, which had ranked 9th just six years ago.
That wasn’t the only big news from the Vault Banking 50, the premier survey for evaluating the best investment banks to work for in North America. Guggenheim Securities, which hadn’t cracked Vault’s Top 10 until last year, climbed into the Top 5. Bank of America rose three spots to 6th, with Lazard making a similar jump to 7th. At the same time, PJT Partners, the spinoff of Blackstone, made the most impressive move of all, rocketing from 21st to 9th.
The Banking 50 ranking, released January 28th, was launched in 2007 by Vault, a leading collector of market intelligence for employer ratings and reviews. It is based on two surveys, which were completed by a record 3,300 respondents in 2019 (up from 2,800 responses last year and 2,400 the year before). Targeted to executives and practitioners at the top investment banks, the Vault survey is broken into two distinct measures.
MEASURING QUALITY OF LIFE AND PRESTIGE
In the first, survey respondents evaluate the “Prestige” of their peer firms. Using a 10 point scale (where 10 is the highest-possible rating), they score their competitors’ reputations. This is based on both respondents’ perception of their performance and their personal experiences with these firms. In the second part, respondents also turn their attention to their own employers, evaluating them in 23 satisfaction-related categories. These benchmarks include pay, training, leadership, culture, long-term outlook, mobility, diversity and work-life balance. Like Prestige, these Quality of Life measures are assessed using the same 1-10 scale.
From there, each of these categories is given a weight in the Vault Banking 50 formula. Considering the industry value attached to stature – earned or not – it is hardly surprising that Prestige accounts for 40% of the ranking. Firm Culture garners another 20% of the weight, with Compensation, Business Outlook, and Overall Satisfaction each earning a 10% share of the ranking. Work-Life Balance and Training (5% each) round out the formula – with 2020 weights remaining the same as those used in the 2019 and 2018 rankings. In other words, the scores correspond to previous criteria, enabling readers to make clear side-by-side comparisons.
That comes in handy in relation to Centerview Partner’s ascension, says Derek Loosvelt, senior editor at Vault in a January Q&A with Poets&Quants. “Centerview has been rising in our rankings the past few years and I expected them to continue to rise, so it seemed inevitable that at some point they’d rise to No.1 or No. 2.”
RANKING #1 IN OVER HALF OF THE CATEGORIES
This year, Centerview posted an 8.586 cumulative index score, up substantively from the 8.169 score it notched just three years ago. Notably, the firm produced the highest scores overall from its employees in 13 measures: Ability to Challenge, Business Outlook, Client Interaction, Compensation, Culture, Firm Leadership, Formal Leadership, Hiring Process, Informal Training, Promotion Policies, Relationships With Managers, Satisfaction, and Work-Life Balance.
Compare that to 2019, where Centerview Partners ranked #1 in just three categories: Compensation, Firm Leadership, and Formal Training. In other words, Centerview jumped to #1 in ten categories in just one year! When Centerview wasn’t claiming top spots, they were improving their performance across the board. In Hours, for example, Centerview climbed from 10th to 5th. When it came to Internal Mobility and Vacation Policies, the firm rose from 5 to 2 and 7 to 2, respectively. Overall, Centerview’s highest average came in Firm Leadership, with a 9.859 score. The firm also scored high in Formal Training (9.809), Culture (9.708), Business Outlook (9.685), Compensation (9.676), and Client Interaction (9.630).
Bottom line: the Centerview team is well-trained, well-paid, highly-engaged, and bullish on the future. That’s a hard combination to beat!
“THE BEST BANKERS ON THE STREET”
At the same time, Centerview has garnered increasing respect from the street. In Vault’s Prestige ranking – which makes up 40% of the ranking – Centerview inched up to #5 with a 7.147 score – quite an improvement from 6.527 in 2017. Going back further, Centerview scored a 4.412 in 2010, good for 34th. In other words, the firm has come a long way in the minds of peer bankers over the past decade.
Formed by former chief executives at UBS and Wasserstein Perella, Centerview has been described as “the hardest investment banking job to get.” Focused on M&A advisory and restructuring, the firm employs 350 people and maintains five offices. Since being founded in 2006, Centerview has advised on over $3 trillion dollars in transactions, including 21st Century Fox’s sale to Disney. Loosvelt notes that the firm has been taking on “larger and larger advisory transactions” – one reason why its prestige has grown in recent years. At the same time, he adds, it has invested heavily in its strengths: compensation and culture.
“There is no other shop on the Street where you are compensated on par with (and sometimes better than) the buyside and have the ability to advise on headline transactions for the most complex or highest profile companies,” writes one anonymous employee reviewer. “Everyone below MD is groomed to rise up and be client-facing strategic thinkers and financial advisors…The responsibilities granted at the earliest stages of the career make for an unparalleled experience.”
“Centerview has an amazing culture,” adds another anonymous reviewer. “The business outlook is very strong. The senior leadership is a combination of the best bankers on the Street with organically promoted talented people. People are extremely happy to be part of the firm.”
‘NO PLACE TO HIDE’ AT EVERCORE
Evercore remained the runner-up in 2020, edged out by just .079 of a point. That hasn’t stemmed from a lack of effort, however. Like Centerview Partners, Evercore has surged in the Vault Banking 50 over the past three years. The firm’s composite index score has jumped by .398 of a point in that span. In terms of Prestige, Evercore’s score has jumped by a whole .60 of a point – nearly equal to Centerview’s .62 improvement.
What’s the difference between Evercore and Centerview? Mainly, Evercore ranked 1st in just one category: Diversity for Women. That said, the firm finished 4th or better in 16 categories, including 2nd in Business Outlook, Firm Leadership, Hiring Process, Informal Training, Promotion Policies, Vacation Policies, Overall Diversity, Diversity For Minorities, and Diversity for Women. Evercore’s highest scores came in Business Outlook (9.654) and Firm Leadership (9.618). The lowest scores? That’d be Benefits (7.588) and Hours (7.877).
At 1,900 employees, Evercore is more than five times the size of Centerview Partners, with a client Rolodex that includes Kraft, Dell, T-Mobile, DuPont, and Whole Foods. It is described by one anonymous reviewer as a “meritocracy” that removes politics and rewards generously – but also “eliminates any place to hide.” Another calls it an “extremely flat, entrepreneurial culture that allows direct deal and client exposure from day one.” That creates a range of opportunities according to another Evercore survey taker.
For in-depth analysis of Goldman Sachs’ performance, go to the next page.
To access 5 pages of ranking and satisfaction data on the Vault Banking 50 ranking, go to the bottom of page 3.