Boutique investment banking firms are back

WASHINGTON - APRIL 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is introduced by investment banker Roger Altman before speaking at the Mayflower Hotel April 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Biden delivered remarks to the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project forum on 'From Recession to Recovery to Renewal.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wall Street went crazy over the past 15 years, and we had mega-banks gobbling up prominent investment houses, and then making risky trades on their own account with the stockholders, and then the U.S. taxpayers footing the bill.

Now things are changing, hopefully in a good way.

It’s been a miserable few years for investment banks. Between epochal meltdowns, shotgun marriages, a federal pay czar, congressional investigations, reform legislation, and SEC lawsuits, even the proudest firms have been flayed (often for good reason). One of the less publicized results of that tumult has been an exodus of talent. But many bankers aren’t fleeing Wall Street — they’re fleeing to the other side of the Street: small boutique firms that eschew the proprietary trading and lending to their clients that the giant banks emphasize. These younger firms hark back to a venerable model of financial firms, selling only advice.

The biggest and fastest-rising of these outfits is Evercore Partners (EVR), headed by Roger Altman, the ultraconnected former U.S. Treasury official, and Ralph Schlosstein, a superstar who joined the firm last year from BlackRock (BLK, Fortune 500). Evercore shuns risk — no trading for its own account, no lending — and prides itself on avoiding everything that brought the Citigroups (C, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachses (GS, Fortune 500) to grief. Instead, Evercore’s main service is providing advice to CEOs on mergers and restructurings.

This is the way it should be.


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