It's ok if you're astoundingly well connected - if you're a one-man brand with a self-aggrandising personal website showing your encounters with various senior statesmen, and if you can drop in at the last moment to mollify an awkward Sheikh who's standing in the way of a deal. But if you're not - if you're just a junior M&A banker with an affinity for spreadsheets - life is becoming harder than ever.
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Tony Blair, ex-prime-minister, JPMorgan consultant and friend of Middle East power-brokers, earned £620k for three hours' work last week. Blair was catapulted into a late night meeting that helped seal the merger between Glencore and Xstrata. Qatar is Xstrata's biggest investor and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, had refused to vote for the deal unless Glencore increased its offer. Somehow, Tony - who knows the Sheikh from his work as a Middle East peace envoy - managed to convince him to capitulate.
Blair already earns £2.5m a year from JPMorgan, which is Xstrata's main advisor on the Glencore deal. The £620k appears to be in addition to this.
In further proof that ex-politicians are popular at bankers, the Sunday Times also pointed out that despite cost-cutting Sir Andrew Cahn, the former head of UK Trade & Investment, is still a vice-chairman of public policy at Nomura. For this, he gets an office and salary - despite also working for Lloyd’s of London, Huawei and Harvey Nash.
But at the bottom of the food chain
While well-connected rainmakers are comfortably placed, junior bankers aren't.
The trend for 'pooling' junior M&A resources so that they can be called upon by whichever senior banker that needs them, is gathering speed.
Earlier this year, it emerged that Credit Suisse had pooled all its junior investment bankers across Europe. Now Goldman Sachs is doing the same.
Credit Suisse's pooling involved removing product silos, thereby making all junior investment bankers accessible to work on any role across IBD. The implication is that the same junior at Credit Suisse who works on an IPO could later be working on an M&A deal.
By comparison, Goldman's pooling is restricted to its junior M&A bankers. Financial News reports that Goldman employs between 80 and 100 junior M&A bankers in Europe. Until now, they have been segmented by region and by sector. In future, they will simply be aggregated into two large teams covering northern Europe and southern Europe.
Needless to say, Goldman is attempting to sell this as a good thing. In a memo to its M&A juniors last week, it said: “This structure will allow our junior bankers to benefit from working across multiple geographies and multiple sectors, making for a more diverse and interesting experience and enhancing opportunities for long-term career growth and professional development.”
However, pooling is also likely to bring serious downsides to those in the pool. Most significantly, being drafted in to work on a deal will be dependent upon juniors' relationships with the senior M&A bankers who select teams on a deal-by-deal basis. Junior M&A bankers face regular beauty parades, equivalent to school sports' teams selection. Politics and sucking up to senior bankers seem likely to increase as a result.
Pooled juniors also face harder work as the benefits of specialisation disappear. When every new mandate brings a different sector with different issues, juniors will have to work harder to get up to speed on each new deal. Life is easy at the top. But at the bottom, it's getting harder.