How to get ahead in investment banking

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How the mighty have fallen.

Investment bankers used to be the masters of the universal banks, earning money that made everyone else green with envy.

But no longer: now, even when they’re doing well, they have to know their place.

In December, a gaggle of Credit Suisse business leaders from around the world stood in front of investors in Canary Wharf to tell them how brilliantly they were performing.

Investing the riches of very wealthy company owners in Asia – and lending them money – is ground zero for the Swiss bank’s new business model. The global markets trading businesses have been struggling in Asia. But old-style investment banking and capital markets has been top notch.

For the first nine months of 2019, Dealogic ranked Credit Suisse number two in Asia ex Japan investment banking revenue – ahead of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs and behind only Citic Securities. It was number one for investment banking revenues in south-east Asia. And as Euromoney went to press it was on track to be number one for the region for the whole of 2019, given its lead role on the giant Alibaba Hong Kong IPO in November.

How do you get ahead at Credit Suisse in Asia?

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Edwin Low,
Credit Suisse 

Edwin Low, co-head of investment banking and capital markets for Asia-Pacific, offers a glimpse into how the firm has been institutionalizing cultural change.

“To be eligible for promotion to managing director in investment banking and capital markets you have to have transferred net new assets into the private bank for two years in a row.”

To be clear, he is talking about client assets, not the bankers’ own bonuses.

“And I don’t mean emailing contact details of an entrepreneur to someone at the private bank and inviting them to pitch for the business. I mean making sure the referral leads to net new assets being transferred.”

Making promotion dependent on helping another business somehow seems sharper to Euromoney than calculating a portion of bonuses on how cooperative a banker has been.

This approach has boosted referrals to the private bank by $20 billion over the past three years. It must also help the private bankers understand their clients’ lives a little more and give them something in common. After all, they both now have lots of investment bankers that suddenly want to be their best friend.