An investment bank is a financial intermediary that performs a variety of services.
When a company wants to raise capital by issuing securities, it needs an entity with the skills and knowledge required to bridge the gap between itself and investors. Investment banks fill that underwriting role. They also advise businesses on mergers and acquisitions, buy and sell their own securities, and serve as a broker and adviser for financial institutions, offering guidance on the best ways to raise funds.
The advisory divisions within investment banks are paid for their services, while the trading divisions record profits or losses based on their market performance. If the two sides don’t remain independent from one another, a conflict of interest can occur.
The more connections an investment bank has, the more likely it is to profit from matching buyers and sellers. Clients include corporations, pension funds, hedge funds, governments and other financial institutions. Their services can be complex, but investment banks help companies make financial decisions and raise the capital they need.
An investment banker is an individual who works in a financial institution that is in the business primarily of raising capital for companies, governments and other entities, or who works in a large bank’s division that is involved with these activities, often called an investment bank. Investment bankers may also provide other services to their clients such as mergers and acquisition advice, or advice on specific transactions, such as a spin-off or reorganization. In smaller organizations that do not have a specific investment banking arm, corporate finance staff may fulfill the duties of investment bankers.
While investment bankers often work on large asset management projects with other companies, they may engage in wealth management for individuals as well.
An advisor who provides investment banking services in the United States must be a licensed broker-dealer and subject to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulation.
Unlike commercial banks and retail banks, investment banks do not take deposits. Investment banking is a specific division of banking related to the creation of capital for other companies, governments and other entities. Investment banks underwrite new debt and equity securities for all types of corporations, aid in the sale of securities, and help to facilitate mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations and broker trades for both institutions and private investors. Investment banks also provide guidance to issuers regarding the issue and placement of stock.
The two main lines of business in investment banking are called the sell side and the buy side. The sell side involves trading securities for cash or for other securities (e.g. facilitating transactions, market-making), or the promotion of securities (e.g. underwriting, research, etc.). The buy side involves the provision of advice to institutions that buy investment services. Private equity funds, mutual funds, life insurance companies, unit trusts, and hedge funds are the most common types of buy-side entities.
An investment bank can also be split into private and public functions with a Chinese wall separating the two to prevent information from crossing. The private areas of the bank deal with private insider information that may not be publicly disclosed, while the public areas, such as stock analysis, deal with public information.
Many large investment banks are affiliated with or subsidiaries of larger banking institutions, and many have become household names, the largest being Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank. Broadly speaking, investment banks assist in large, complicated financial transactions. This may include advice as to how much a company is worth and how best to structure a deal if the investment banker’s client is considering an acquisition, merger or sale. It may also include the issuing of securities as a means of raising money for the client groups, and creating the documentation for the Securities and Exchange Commission necessary for a company to go public.
Investment banks employ investment bankers who help corporations, governments and other groups plan and manage large projects, saving their client time and money by identifying risks associated with the project before the client moves forward. In theory, investment bankers are experts in their field who have their finger on the pulse of the current investing climate, so businesses and institutions turn to investment banks for advice on how best to plan their development, as investment bankers can tailor their recommendations to the present state of economic affairs.
Essentially, investment banks serve as middlemen between a company and investors when the company wants to issue stock or bonds. The investment bank assists with pricing financial instruments so as to maximize revenue and with navigating regulatory requirements. Often, when a company holds its initial public offering (IPO), an investment bank will buy all or much of that company’s shares directly from the company. Subsequently, as a proxy for the company holding the IPO, the investment bank will sell the shares on the market. This makes things much easier for the company itself, as they effectively contract out the IPO to the investment bank. Moreover, the investment bank stands to make a profit, as it will generally price its shares at a markup from the price it initially paid. Yet, in doing so the investment bank also takes on a substantial amount of risk. Though experienced analysts at the investment bank use their expertise to accurately price the stock as best they can, the investment bank can lose money on the deal if it turns out they have overvalued the stock, as in this case they will often have to sell the stock for less than they initially paid for it.
Investment banks will often compete with one another for securing IPO projects, which can force them to increase the price they are willing to pay to secure the deal with the company that is going public. If competition is particularly fierce, this lead to a substantial blow to the investment bank’s bottom line. Most often, however, there will be more than one investment bank underwriting securities in this way, rather than just one. While this means that each investment bank has less to gain, it also means that each one will have reduced risk.
Corporate finance is the traditional aspect of investment banks, which involves helping customers raise funds in capital markets and giving advice on mergers and acquisitions (M&A); this may involve subscribing investors to a security issuance, coordinating with bidders, or negotiating with a merger target.
A pitch book of financial information is generated to market the bank to a potential M&A client; if the pitch is successful, the bank arranges the deal for the client. The investment banking division (IBD) is generally divided into industry coverage and product coverage groups. Industry coverage groups focus on a specific industry—such as healthcare, public finance (governments), FIG (financial institutions group), industrials, TMT (technology, media, and telecommunications), P&E (power & energy), consumer/retail, food & beverage, corporate defense and governance—and maintain relationships with corporations within the industry to bring in business for the bank. Product coverage groups focus on financial products—such as mergers and acquisitions, leveraged finance, public finance, asset finance and leasing, structured finance, restructuring, equity, and high-grade debt—and generally work and collaborate with industry groups on the more intricate and specialized needs of a client.
The investment banking industry, and many individual investment banks, have come under criticism for a variety of reasons, including perceived conflicts of interest, overly large pay packages, cartel-like or oligopolic behavior, taking both sides in transactions, and more. Investment banking has also been criticized for its opacity.
Conflicts of Interest
Conflicts of interest often arise in relation to investment banks’ equity research units, which have long been part of the industry.
A common practice is for equity analysts to initiate coverage of a company in order to develop relationships that lead to highly profitable investment banking business. In the 1990s, many equity researchers allegedly traded positive stock ratings for investment banking business. Alternatively, companies may threaten to divert investment banking business to competitors unless their stock was rated favorably. Laws were passed to criminalize such acts, and increased pressure from regulators and a series of lawsuits, settlements, and prosecutions curbed this business to a large extent following the 2001 stock market tumble after the dot-com bubble.
Since investment banks engage heavily in trading for their own account, there is always the temptation for them to engage in some form of front running – the illegal practice whereby a broker executes orders for their own account before filling orders previously submitted by their customers, thereby benefiting from any changes in prices induced by those orders.
Every major investment bank has considerable amounts of in-house software, created by the technology team, who are also responsible for technical support. Technology has changed considerably in the last few years as more sales and trading desks are using electronic trading. Some trades are initiated by complex algorithms for hedging purposes. Firms are responsible for compliance with local and foreign government regulations and internal regulations.
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