The unexpected investment bank that offers the best work-life balance

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Lazy summer afternoon

If you want to work at an investment bank that carries plenty of clout within the industry, the usual suspects will be your best bet. For the fourth year running, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan have ranked as the three most prestigious investment banks, according to the latest survey from Vault. But while big-name banks look great on your resume, they don’t always provide the best work-life balance.

Boutique investment bank Greenhill & Co. dominated Vault’s quality of life rankings, finishing first in over half of the categories, including work-life balance, hours, culture, relationships with managers and overall satisfaction, among others. Fellow M&A-focused boutiques like Centerview Partners, Perella Weinberg and PJ Solomon also fared well in the quality of life categories.

Digging into the employee reviews, one phrase kept popping up at Greenhill: face time – or a lack thereof. Nearly a dozen bankers noted that Greenhill doesn’t promote the all-too-familiar culture where juniors are made to feel obligated to stick around until 2 a.m. for no particular reason. Interns, analysts and even associates at other banks often complain about the pressure they feel to remain in the office late at night and on weekends just because their boss happens to be there or other juniors have yet to go home. However, showing your face for the sake of it appears to be frowned upon by management at Greenhill.

“Hours can be unpredictable but management cares about work/life balance and long hours are usually linked to active deals,” said one M&A banker. Other reviews tout Greenhill’s culture, management and collegial atmosphere. Even some non-five-star reviews mention the “great hours” and “great lifestyle” at the boutique, though employees who work outside of Greenhill’s New York headquarters – in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and Houston – were more likely to boast about working hours. Greenhill operates in 15 cities globally and actually generates more revenue from clients outside the U.S.

Beyond work-life balance, Greenhill bankers mentioned some of the more common pros for boutiques: working on live deals rather than always pitching along with early exposure to MDs and clients. The downsides were also somewhat predictable. Like most boutiques, Greenhill is an advisory specialist that doesn’t have the financing arm and resources of bulge-bracket banks, which can sometimes limit deal flow.

Greenhill’s march up the overall rankings likely has something to do with its recent success. M&A revenues increased 30% during the second quarter, driving first-half compensation up $15 million, or 18%. However, compensation as a percentage of revenue at Greenhill still doesn't match that of bigger-name boutiques like Evercore and PJT Partners, which is probably why the bank ranked 9th in satisfaction over pay, finishing below several other boutique investment banks.

The overall rankings, which include non-quality of life categories like prestige, leadership and training, are below. There was very little movement inside the top 10, with Goldman hanging on to the top spot for the last three years while Greenhill leapfrogged Moelis. Guggenheim Securities represents the only new member of the top 10, pushing aside PJT Partners.

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