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by Derek Loosvelt | May 16, 2012


Vault recently closed its 2012 Banking Survey, which asked thousands of bankers to rate their peer firms in terms of prestige. This summer, based on the results of the survey, we'll be revealing which firms ranked as the 50 most prestigious this year. Which means we'll soon know if Goldman Sachs managed to hold off J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Blackstone, and Lazard, or if Goldman finally fell from its top spot in our annual rankings—for more than a decade, since we've been rankings investment banks, Goldman has always ranked No. 1 in terms of prestige.

While the quantitative votes are being tallied (survey respondents were asked to rate firms in prestige on a scale of 1 to 10), I thought we'd take a look at some of the qualitative comments we received from respondents this year. Along with a numerical rating, the survey asks respondents to provide a few words about each firm; we call this "The Buzz."

And so, below is a sampling of recent Buzz quotes about last year's five most prestigious investment banking firms (with last year's prestige ranking in parentheses).

Goldman Sachs (#1)
"Old master in decline," "Still prestigious but falling precipitously," "Reputation severely damaged but still the top player," "The class of the field but reputation has taken a hit," "Unethical," "A lot of deals but tarnish reputation in the market," "Has lost much of its appeal and status by focusing too much on the bottom line and not enough on customers and employees," "One of the best brand names with one of the worst cultures," "Past its prime," "Platinum rated in financial services," "Ongoing conflicts of interest and bad press have seriously damaged its reputation among clients," "Highest prestige but lowest class," "Losing its edge," "Still the best"

Morgan Stanley (#2)
"A top name despite recent bad press," "Needs to focus on branding," "Top player," "Slightly behind Goldman," "Adjusting business model more aggressively than Goldman," "Rich history but recent troubles," "A lot of negative press," "Strong M&A competitor," "One of the top three Wall Street banks," "Attracts great talent," "2011 bonus structure was a shock," "Becoming the next Goldman," "Hard to know what MS will look like in five years but for now a decent name," "White shoe," "Lost a lot of its former glory in the downturn and hasn't been competitive in its compensation," "A step below Goldman but not far," "People are smart and hardworking"

The Blackstone Group (#3)
"Very strong PE arm with reputable restructuring practice," "Smart investment managers," "Have stopped all promotions," "Best you can get in PE," "Never heard of any memorable M&A advisory deals," "Not particularly well known but very smart and competitive," "The LBO firm gives the investment banking group more clout than it deserves," "Not a top I-bank," "Great reputation from PE firm," "One of the best," "Very exclusive," "Prestige driven by private equity business," "Advisory business is far weaker," "Depends on the group," "M&A is a joke but restructuring is the real deal although they don't do anything," "Smart people and innovative"

J.P. Morgan* (#4)
"Strong universal bank," "Not quite on par with MS and GS but getting there," "Everybody says it's a total mess," "Doesn't reward staff," "Big but not brilliant," "Top tier and strong competitor," "Good bank but leads with balance sheet," "One of the top three banks on Wall Street," "Prestige improved as result of success through 2008 crisis," "Good research but arrogant," "Just like Goldman and arguably better," "The second best firm behind mine and I'm amazed it hasn't shared more in our negative press," "Not as competitive to get an offer," "Balance sheet advantage," "Best positioned universal bank," "Great pay," "Safe but slow," "800-pound gorilla"

Lazard (#5)
"Old school," "Established independent player," "Has lost market share to newcomers," "Hire and fire mentality," "Aggressive culture," "Strong competitor," "One of the top restructuring practices," "Not the same luster as five years ago," "Best boutique," "Reputable boutique banking shop," "French," "Great M&A," "Work their analysts hard," "Gaining market share," "Prestigious but the culture is very formal," "M&A is its strength," "Independent powerhouse," "Probably the strongest of the boutiques," "Good asset management," "Very impressive firm," "Crazy hours," "Tough place to work but great deal flow," "Great quality and brand name," "Small but well known"

*Surveys were completed prior to the announcement of JPMorgan Chase's recent $2 billion trading loss.

Read More:
2012 Vault Banking Prestige Rankings
2012 Vault Banking 50
In Scrutiny of JPMorgan Loss, Bigger Questions Left Unanswered (DealBook)