For more than a decade, Vault has been ranking investment and commercial banking firms in terms of prestige. This year, in our annual Banking Survey, conducted from April through June, over 1,300 banking professionals were asked to assess their peer firms on a scale of 1 to 10 based on prestige—they were unable to rate their own firm, and were asked to rate only firms with which they were familiar—and for the 11th straight year, industry insiders named Goldman Sachs the most prestigious bank in North America.
Although Goldman taking the top spot might seem to conflict with public perception of the firm as of late, Goldman is still standing tall and strong on its feet, landing large deals and banking billions of dollars. And it’s done a pretty good job of handling all of the negative press—some deserved, some not—thrown its way during the past 12 months. The firm has largely stayed out of headlines since settling its SEC suit (paying more than half a billion dollars to do so) and, as Vault’s survey results show, is still the name bankers want most on their resume.
According to banking professionals outside Goldman, the firm is still the “gold standard of banking,” and though its golden reputation has been “a bit tarnished lately,” it is “a profit making machine,” “makes the most money” and “brings in the best deals.”
In addition to solidifying Goldman’s standing as the top bank on Wall Street, Vault’s 2011 banking prestige rankings saw the return of the big banks, following last year’s surge by smaller boutique firms.
Barclays Capital, a firm on the move in the U.S., jumped back into the Top 10, leaping three spots from No. 11 to No. 8; UBS Investment Bank, a firm very much on the rebound after a rough couple of years, rose from No. 14 to No. 10; and the biggest (and perhaps most surprising) jump in the top 20 came from Bank of America, which rose nine spots from No. 21 to No. 12, likely indicating that its new man on top (Brian Moynihan) and integration of Merrill Lynch are working out very well.
The return of the big banks came at the expense of several smaller firms. Greenhill fell from No. 6 to No. 9; Evercore slid from No. 8 to No. 11; and Rothschild dropped from No. 10 to No. 14. In addition, Perella Weinberg, which made a strong attempt at cracking the Top 10 last year, coming in at No. 12, dropped three spots to No. 15 in this year’s rankings. And Moelis & Company, which had jumped 29 spots last year to rank No. 13, fell three spots this year to No. 16.
The reason for the return of the large firms likely had a lot to do with the extreme suffering that many of them went through in 2008 (when they booked losses by the billions and sacked employees by the thousands) and the return of the deal markets in 2009 (which handsomely benefited big banks’ bottom lines).
Back in 2008, when the credit crisis hit the Street, many dealmakers at large firms (who weren't laid off) feared prospective compensation restrictions and took positions at boutiques. But in 2009, when the deal markets returned, and it became clear that the threats to limit banker compensation were empty (remember the pay czar?), big banks were again able to make the kind of money they were making pre-2008, as well as attract the best talent at both the lower and higher levels. That is, it appears to be back to business as usual on Wall Street.
Check out the complete 2011 Vault Banking Prestige Rankings.