Banks might be talking tech even more than last year, but that still doesn’t mean it works. At one New York office we were told in the lift that a few technological issues meant that there probably wouldn’t be any video for the global conference call. We would be greeted by a horde of disembodied voices, made all the more unsettling by the knowledge that they could see us.
“Good job this isn’t a tech award,” we commented cheerfully.
“Off the record, it will be years before we win one of those,” came the reply.
After that kind of performance, they’d be pulling out all the tech stops in London, right? Er, no. We all took a few moments to joke about the New York problems of course, laughing at the ludicrousness of it all… and then they couldn’t dial Asia in.
At Goldman Sachs, the conference call hold music as we waited for London to dial in was elegant classical but so devastatingly loud that we wondered if DJ D-Sol had been practising his latest set in that room the night before.
It’s also always worth checking that everyone is clear on which international code to add to the dial-in number – and checking that your conference numbers don’t offer the scope for unfortunate mix-ups.
Imagine our surprise when dialling the number that one bank had given to us and being met by: “Hi… are you a guy seeking hot girls? Or maybe you’re a hot girl seeking that special guy?” It certainly wasn’t how we expected to begin a corporate responsibility pitch.
Let’s all get along
Sometimes it takes a helpful colleague to steer you in the right direction:
“We’ve done a slide deck to summarize the four-pager…” said one banker.
“Er, you can’t summarize four pages with something that’s 20 pages…” replied his teammate.
We’d like to think they continued that ‘discussion’ after we had left.
We’re quite used to the fact that people manipulate league tables for their own ends. Part of the sport is checking the six-point type footnotes beneath them to figure out how exactly a bank has contrived the miraculous outcome the table appears to represent.
So, for example, the inexplicable decision to provide a league table of all Indonesian M&A, but with all deals involving state-owned companies removed, is cheeky but OK if the footnote says what has been done.
Not OK, though, was a league table comprising “all public and private loan and bond deals” and sourced to Dealogic. We were a bit puzzled by this. Dealogic doesn’t compile private debt transactions in this particular market, what with them being, you know, private.
The bank in question ranked top of that table. How had they done it?
“Well, we added our own private deals.”
But nobody else’s?
“No. We don’t know what those deals are. They’re private.”
And the Oscar goes to…
The comms person was contrite. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “I told our team not to make a video. But they made a video. It’s a video about how we service clients and it doesn’t have any clients in it. Can you pretend you didn’t see it?”
Listen to the advice of your comms teams. They know what works and what doesn’t. Videos are almost universally disastrous, although even we were taken aback at one from an international bank that, having appeared to be a generic orchestrally scored exercise in high production-value smoothness, ended with the region’s chief executive staring into the camera and saying: “I’m really sorry I’m not there today.”
Know your colleagues
Bragging about the collective age of everyone in the room is a well-worn trope of awards pitches, but it does look better if you show that you really know your colleagues. One banker leading a pitch this year probably needed to check their facts before launching into the traditional boast.
“I’ve been here 22 years, he’s been here 25 years. [Pointing to another colleague] You’re the youngster – how long have you been here?”
Dissing the competition is moving into a slightly more intellectual sphere these days. There are the usual sarcastic comments expressing surprise at rivals’ (mis)reading of the markets, but one banker got quite energized about just how foolish his peers can be.
“The rest of the Street will say this deal is 5% dilutive, so your stock is going to be down 5%. There are still people that say that! Ha ha ha!”
Yes, ha ha ha.
Building the future
Citi’s Greenwich Street office does look a lot better than it has done for the last five years or so, but whether you consider it finished seems to depend on whether you are an incorrigible optimist (banker) or a weather-beaten realist (door staff). We’d trust the latter’s judgement that there’s still a bit of work to be done, judging by the fact that the central atrium is still being, ahem, worked on.
Looking into the site from the escalators, Euromoney was pleased to see what looked like a bar being installed. But perhaps it is just a café.
At least it’s all going to look spectacular. HSBC’s Fifth Avenue building has so many strange hoardings and featureless narrow corridors that it’s always hard to know if it is always being renovated or is just plain odd.
Size matters, 2019-style
“Big can be lumbering. We don’t want to be that. We want to be big and agile.”
Do you think they noticed?
Slips of the tongue happen – of course they do. But a seamlessly executed correction ought to clear up any confusion. And so it was when one banker was eagerly describing how joined up its end-to-end processes can be: “From capital commitment to distribution losses, er distribution issues, through to our final hold position”.
Yes, we noticed.
Things not to say
It seems surprising that this wouldn’t already be obvious, but “we only heard about the deal when it was reported in the press” isn’t the most impressive claim to make in a pitch, particularly when told the bank already had a relationship with the client.
The bank in question went on to carve out a role for itself in the deal, but even so we couldn’t quite help feeling that the impact had rather been lost.
Nor is honesty always the best policy: “You don’t want another guy in the room like me who only understands one thing.”
Another client was described as having “a maniacal focus”, making them sound like a Bond villain.
Private banking exists in a rarefied atmosphere and one that is not terribly adjacent to journalism. So when you mention in passing that “at the private bank we serve individuals like yourself” you can be sure that no, you definitely don’t.
It’s probably important to know what your own firm is pitching. When one bank asked whether one award covered X or Y, we were tempted to point them in the direction of the submission criteria that we publish months before the awards process or perhaps previous write-ups. Happily, however, we were able to highlight their own submission that they had already made, which covered all bases correctly.
“Sometimes we are not better than competitors” is refreshing but might not be what your colleagues want to hear you saying. And you might not be surprised that the bank that last year told us it wanted more clients, still wanted more clients this year. At least their strategy is consistent.
Knowing where you stand against the competition is advisable, as is not sounding too surprised about it: “We’re probably ahead in that league table – it’s kind of hard to believe” is not a compelling argument.
It’s tough to choose between the two best examples of things not to say this year, though. We had thought that the clear winner was going to be when we asked: “Can you give an example of a deal that illustrates structural innovation?”
“I can get back to you on that.”
But just shading that was this claim from another bank, which probably didn’t intend it to sound like it did: “When you have very smart people, you don’t need a lot of them. We have 350 in our team.”
noun (s) Freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble
c 2019 Banker Pitch “Of course, it’s great to be number one. But I have to tell you that what really sets this place apart is there is just so much humility. In fact, nobody has more humility than we do.”
Sometimes there is no food when it would be very nice if there was. Is a sandwich too much to ask if your pitch meeting runs from 12pm to 3pm?
Sometimes there is food, but no one seems to notice. An entire trolley of delightful platters was wheeled into one lunchtime pitch and was then studiously ignored by everyone present, much to Euromoney’s annoyance, until after the meeting had finished.
Sometimes there is food, but it doesn’t quite match the messaging. “Healthy Eating” at Barclays, advertised by cards propped up against the plates in the meeting rooms, seems to involve more cookies, chocolate biscuits and pastries than one might expect.
Did you hear what I said?
We know that there is little that can swerve a banker in full pitch mode, but it does still help to listen occasionally – and to be able to count.
“In the interests of time, could you highlight no more than two deals?” we asked.
“Sure, here are three,” came the reply.
It’s often surprising how banks seem to struggle to find one person able to speak about a business line, preferring to cater for all egos by inviting a whole horde of regional and sub-asset class managers to pitch in. Meetings can quickly feel more crowded than an ‘advisory’ group the week after an M&A deal is announced
Flooding the room to illustrate just how seriously the bank is taking the award is not all that effective, if truth be told. The effort to get everyone to speak intrudes on our need to ask questions – but we understand the intention.
One pitch where we had asked for ideally no more than a couple of people was duly scheduled for no fewer than six. Cue the explanation: “We know you asked for no more than two, but what we can say is that no more than two of us will speak at any one time.”
We think that was meant as a joke.
Once pitch populations move into double figures (as they did on four occasions during the Asia pitches), they are generally housed in suitably epic boardrooms. One bank, however, decided to get 13 bankers, plus several comms people, to present on one regional award – in a room that would have been snug for six.
It felt like that segment on Jimmy Fallon where he, the backing band and a guest all cram into a broom cupboard to play a classic on kids’ musical instruments.
Remarkably, all 13 did have a say, although we couldn’t see some of them because there were too many of their colleagues in the way.
Sometimes it’s the opposite problem – people don’t appear who you’d expect to be there. But “he’s not here because he’s gone to get his pen” felt a little like being back at school.
Last year we had ice hockey and baseball, and sure enough both of those featured heavily again in 2019. In a precise repeat of a claim made last year, one bank was again “skating to where the puck is going”.
But in a new development, one colleague at the same firm simply wanted to “get the puck on the ice”, which sounds better or perhaps worse. As so often, it’s hard to know. Competitors, meanwhile, were apparently “playing eighth-grade soccer”.
One bank wanted us to understand that they were not “hiding the ball”. We’re not sure we did.
Baseball is always used to describe the “cycle”. We’re definitely not in the third inning, but are we in the seventh, or perhaps the ninth? One banker’s breezy advice if it was indeed the ninth was “to get yourself another beer and a hotdog”.
That could be difficult: Euromoney has never been able to buy a beer after the seventh, since that’s when the bars shut. But why let reality get in the way of an analogy?
Our four-page maximum pitch document rule is being flagrantly violated by a cunning loophole: the appendix. Some banks have rounded out their four-page pitches with appendices running to hundreds of pages.
When the dessert is this much bigger than the main course, you’re asking for indigestion.
No one wants to end on a downer, and bankers are ever the optimists. But one sounded rather too eager to convince us that all was right with the world: “There is no evidence that we should be phenomenally worried.”
#Bullshit bingo, again
This environment “is in our DNA”. We’re in the middle of “an IPO supercycle”. The most difficult thing is to “keep your true north”. In difficult markets “you cannot be pencils down”. We are “landing the plane”. First-quarter 2018 was “Volmaggedon”.
There was another instance of “pollinization”, the word that appeared to be invented during 2018’s pitches.
Pretty much everyone was uniquely collaborative. One bank had “an omnipresent presence”. Another’s “special sauce” was that it was truly agnostic and holistic, as evidenced by its “solution-oriented cross-border solutions”.
And if you weren’t “blocking and tackling” in 2018, what the hell were you doing?