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Year in data 2016: Investment banking may be more efficient than you think

Remember the days when it was investment bank divisions that were the drag on banks’ group cost-to-income ratios?

To judge by recent data, the world is very different now. An analysis of a dozen of the top players shows that most IBs are now outperforming their groups in terms of cost efficiency.

A lot of factors play into this trend: reductions in headcount, the fact that conduct issues continue to weigh heavily and are frequently booked at the group level, the cutting of expensive functions and the gradual filleting of operations in banking and markets divisions, both in terms of product and geography.

But a clear trend has developed of investment banks showing greater efficiency than their parent groups.

For the year 2015, the cost-to-income ratios at those business divisions that include investment bank activities were lower than those at the rest of the parent group at seven of the 12 banks analyzed. For the first nine months of 2016, the investment banks have lower cost-to-income ratios at 10 of the firms. 

At seven firms, the investment bank divisions show lower cost-to-income ratios for both periods. At only two firms – BNP Paribas and Société Générale – did the investment banks show higher cost-to-income ratios than the rest of their parent groups for both years.

One of the most efficient overall at both the investment bank and rest-of-group levels is Citi, which notched up the lowest ratios in both categories for 2015 and whose investment bank was among the lowest in 2016. The most efficient performer at investment bank level in 2016 was Bank of America Merrill Lynch. JPMorgan had the best rest-of-group figure for 2016.

At the other end of the spectrum, Credit Suisse’s investment bank activities showed the highest cost-to-income ratio in both 2015 and 2016, as well as the highest rest-of-group ratio for 2016. Deutsche Bank had the highest rest-of-group number for 2015.

For the purposes of this analysis, we have taken the reported revenue and expense numbers for each quarter at group level and at the level of what we consider to be the relevant investment banking and markets divisions at each firm. The numbers for each firm are not precisely comparable, since banks group their banking and markets operations differently. Some include corporate banking and transactions services, for example. 

For each group, the investment bank analysis is based on the following divisions:

Deutsche Bank: Global Markets and Corporate & Investment Banking

UBS: Investment Bank

Barclays: Corporate and Investment Bank

Morgan Stanley: Institutional Securities

Citi: Institutional Clients Group

Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Global Banking and Global Markets

HSBC: Global Banking and Markets

Credit Suisse: Investment Banking and Capital Markets, Asia Pacific Investment Banking and Swiss Universal Bank Corporate & Institutional Banking

Société Générale: Global Markets & Investor Services and Financial and Advisory

BNP Paribas: Corporate and Institutional Banking

JPMorgan: Corporate & Investment Bank

Goldman Sachs: Investment Banking and Institutional Client Services