The boutique investment bank everyone should want to work for

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The top of the latest “best bank to work for” list offers no real surprises. Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan fill out the top four, in that order. But number five may shock you a bit. It’s a boutique investment bank that’s quietly outshining many bigger firms with a dominant 2014. Employees are apparently enjoying the ride.

Finishing fifth, Centerview Partners was the highest ranked boutique in the Vault Banking 50, which identifies the best investment banks in which to work based on anonymous employee feedback.

Really, no one should be that surprised, particular if you work in M&A. During the first half of 2014, Centerview worked on roughly $150 billion worth of US deals, placing the 200-person firm seventh in the league table rankings as of the end of June, ahead of more high profile M&A shops like Lazard and larger bulge bracket banks like UBS and Deutsche Bank.

The firm’s recent success has done more than put a smile on the faces of its employees. They’re feeling it in their wallets, too. Centerview bankers are more content with their level of compensation than employees at any other bank. It also ranked in the top five in 16 individual workplace categories, including critical areas like business outlook, firm culture, work hours, satisfaction, benefits and work-life balance.

“Centerview has been on a tear as of late, winning several high profile and lucrative advisory assignments,” said Derek Loosvelt, senior finance editor at Vault.com. The boutique firm advised on several multiple billion-dollar deals this year, including ones involving big names like Oracle, Tyson Foods and GE.

“We do half the volume of deals as many bulge bracket banks with maybe less than one-tenth the number of employees,” according to one anonymous Centerview employee. “This translates into a better experience (in terms of both comp and exposure) for everyone working here.”

Centerview also does a nice job of treating its junior bankers well when it comes to work-life balance, Loosvelt said.

In fact, the only reason Centerview didn’t finish higher than fifth on the overall list is due to its generally poor prestige ranking, which is essentially a jealousy rating. It asks respondents to assess the reputation of firms other than their own, and it accounts for 40% of the overall rankings. Unsurprisingly, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Blackstone finished in the top four of the prestige rankings. Centerview finished 13th.

If you eliminate prestige and concentrate on only workplace categories, boutiques tend to shine brighter. Houlihan Lokey, a 1,000-person investment bank, finished first in an amazing 17 workplace categories, including culture work-life balance and benefits.

However, a few alleged former Houlihan employees took to our comment section last year, claiming that the only “happy” employees are those that are housed in the companies thriving restructuring business, rather than in its mid-market M&A and financial advisory services practices. Houlihan rejected that claim.

Either way, boutiques are booming, particularly in M&A. Six boutique advisory firms climbed into the top 20 of the M&A league tables for the first half of 2014. Four of them – Centerview Partners, PJT Capital, Evercore Partners and Perella Weinberg – also finished in the overall top 10 best banks to work for, as judged by Vault.

Boutique investment banks have really never been hotter, from both a revenue and workforce perspective.

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Everyone is a little happier

Every big bank has made the same pledge over the last year: we’re going to do a better job with our junior bankers, starting by booting them out of the office on weekends so that they can actually have some form of life outside of work.

Despite the skepticism, the initiatives appear to be working, at least a bit. Overall work-life balance scores rose from an average of 6.90 to 7.09 (out of 10), representing nearly a 3% jump. Goldman Sachs ranked better in categories including work-life balance, working hours and overall satisfaction, for example. Most other big firms saw similar numbers.

Overall Rankings

2015 Rank 2014 Rank Change Company
1 2 The Blackstone Group
2 3 Goldman Sachs
3 1 Morgan Stanley
4 4 J.P. Morgan
5 7 Centerview Partners
6 5 Evercore Partners
7 9 Houlihan Lokey
8 6 Greenhill and Co.
9 8 Perella Weinburg Partners
10 10 Credit Suisse

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