by Brian DeChesare Comments (5)

Bulge Bracket Banks: 2024 Edition

Bulge Bracket Banks

I never expected to revisit the topic of bulge bracket banks so quickly because the full list changes slowly, and we updated it a few years ago.

But the events of 2023, including the UBS acquisition of Credit Suisse and the rise of firms like Wells Fargo, Jefferies, and RBC, have shaken up the traditional list.

As of 2024, I consider the following to be the list of bulge bracket banks (note that the “potential” category is speculative and could include other, similar firms beyond the 5 currently listed there):

Bulge Bracket Banks - Full List

Sources: The list above is based on deal volume and fee data from Dealogic, the Financial Times, and Statista over the past few years.

What is a “Bulge Bracket Bank”?

Bulge Bracket Bank Definition: The “bulge brackets” are the largest global banks that operate in all regions and offer all services – M&A, equity, debt, and others – to clients; they work on the biggest deals (usually $1 billion+) and have divisions for sales & trading, equity research, wealth management, corporate banking, and more.

The name “bulge bracket” (BB) comes from the prospectus for an IPO or debt issuance, which lists all the banks underwriting the deal.

The larger banks play more important roles, acting as bookrunners or joint bookrunners, and earn higher fees.

Therefore, their names are in bigger font sizes on the cover page, so they appear to be “bulging out” next to the smaller firms:

Bulge Bracket Banks - Name Origin

Note that “bulge bracket” and “BB” are online terms; I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use them in a spoken conversation.

Similar to terminology like “target school,” it would sound weird to use these words in an interview or networking setting.

So, if you need to refer to these firms in real life, try something like “large bank(s)” instead.

Why Have the Bulge Bracket Banks Changed? What About Deutsche Bank and UBS?

The end of Credit Suisse in 2023 means that it’s no longer on this list.

It also means that UBS, which acquired CS, is more firmly in the “bulge bracket bank” category, even though people sometimes debate its status.

The full list changes over time because banks get acquired, go out of business, and change their focus – while other banks make acquisitions and grow organically.

For example, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were considered bulge bracket banks before the 2008 financial crisis – but many people today don’t even remember them.

As another example, some argue that UBS should not be a bulge bracket bank because it has focused on wealth management and areas outside the capital markets.

However, the global IB fees over the past two years do not support that argument:

UBS vs. Bulge Bracket Banks - Fees 01

UBS vs. Bulge Bracket Banks - Fees 02

UBS cares less about investment banking than the banks above it, but it is still in the top ~7 worldwide for IB revenue.

Also, following the acquisition of Credit Suisse, it’s hard to argue that UBS is not a BB bank (similar to how Barclays’ acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ operations turned Barclays into an official bulge bracket).

Deutsche Bank is a trickier case because it now generates less investment banking revenue than firms like Jefferies, Wells Fargo, and RBC.

It also tends to work on smaller deals than the top ~5 banks.

Older bankers might still think DB is a bulge bracket, but I would put it in the “borderline” category as of 2024.

I’m still listing it because it was #9 by global IB revenue in 2021 and 2022, but I would not be surprised if it fell off this list eventually.

This does not mean it’s a bad place to work.

It’s just that it’s not in the same category as GS, MS, JPM, etc., anymore (to be honest, I don’t think it has been in that same category for at least 5-10 years).

Bulge Bracket Bank “Challengers”: Do Wells Fargo, RBC, or Jefferies Qualify?

Looking at these lists, you might think:

“Wait a minute. Firms like Wells Fargo, RBC, and Jefferies all have annual IB revenue between $1 and $2 billion, so they’re not that far from Barclays and Citi. What’s the difference?”

There’s no exact revenue cut-off to qualify for this list, but these firms are less diversified in products and geography, so we do not consider them bulge brackets (yet).

For example, Wells Fargo always does well in debt capital markets but much worse in M&A advisory and equity capital markets.

You can see this if you break out the performance by product area and select “Loans”:

Wells Fargo - DCM Performance

Wells Fargo is usually in the top 5-7 worldwide for debt but ranks much lower in the other areas.

Also, it has less of a global presence, as it’s U.S.-based and executes mostly North American deals.

Meanwhile, a firm like Jefferies is more diversified with a bigger international presence, but it also works on smaller deals than most bulge brackets.

One interesting case is a firm like Mizuho, which acquired Greenhill in 2023 (note that the deal has not yet closed as of the time of this article).

Greenhill was formerly considered an “elite boutique,” at least by some people, so this deal could turn Mizuho into more of an investment bank and give it a greater presence outside Asia, which is why I listed it in the “Potential” category above.

That said, it will still be many years before anyone starts thinking of it as a bulge bracket firm (if ever).

What About the Chinese Banks, Such as CITIC, China International, and Huatai?

While some Chinese banks earn high global revenue from their IB activities, they have virtually no presence outside China.

Also, they are often strong in ECM or DCM but far weaker in areas like M&A.

Due to the current geopolitical climate, it’s highly unlikely that these firms will expand significantly beyond China anytime soon.

But in the distant future, sure, one or more of these firms might join this list.

Bulge Bracket Banks vs Boutique, Middle Market, and Elite Boutique Banks

In addition to the bulge bracket banks, there are other categories: middle market banks, regional boutiques, and elite boutiques.

Each has a separate article on this site; there’s also a summary of the top investment banks.

I’d summarize the differences for front-office investment banking roles as follows:

  • Bulge Bracket vs. Elite Boutique Banks: Both firms work on large/complex deals, and you gain access to very good exit opportunities from both. You’ll get higher compensation at an EB, more interesting work, and more responsibilities, but you’ll also get a smaller network and a lesser-known brand name if you ever want to leave the finance industry.
  • Bulge Bracket vs. Middle Market Banks: You’ll work on smaller deals, have more limited exit opportunities, and get less of a network and brand name at MM banks. But the compensation doesn’t differ much for entry-level roles, and it is more feasible to win offers, particularly if you are at a non-target school, have a lower GPA, or got a late start in the recruiting process.
  • Bulge Bracket vs. Regional Boutique Banks: The differences above are even more extreme here. You’ll work on very small deals at most regional boutiques, have even less access to private equity and hedge fund exits, and get even less of a network and brand name. But you might also have a chance at these very small firms even if you’re not competitive elsewhere.

Based on these comparisons, you might think the bulge bracket banks “win” across all categories.

But that’s not quite true because it ignores a few important points:

  1. The elite boutiques are arguably better if you want to stay in finance long-term due to the compensation and work differences.
  2. It’s harder to win offers at the BB banks, and you need more upfront preparation and an early start in university (or a top-tier MBA).
  3. In some regions, the bulge brackets are not the best because domestic banks are stronger. For example, the “Big 5 (6?)” Canadian banks dominate investment banking in Canada, and the top banks differ in emerging markets such as Brazil.

So, my advice here is simple: Get a realistic sense of where you’re competitive and focus on winning the best offer you can.

If that’s at a bulge bracket bank, great.

If not, go for smaller banks, do your best, and think about moving around once you have more experience.

Final Thoughts: Bulge Bracket Bank or Bust?

A long time ago, many university and MBA students assumed that bulge bracket banks were the “be-all and end-all” for careers.

While they still have advantages, it’s a murkier distinction nowadays.

The elite boutique banks (Evercore, Lazard, Centerview, etc.) are now strong competitors, and you could easily make the case for accepting an offer there.

Also, many private equity firms and hedge funds now recruit undergrads directly via Analyst programs, and if you can win an offer at a large/reputable firm, it’s quite a good option.

Finally, technology firms now offer lucrative jobs to engineers, product managers, and salespeople, so many students go the tech route instead.

The bottom line is that while the bulge bracket banks are still appealing, they are no longer the clear winner in the “Post-Graduation Career Olympics.”

This is especially the case with the changes over the past few years and the disruptions to the traditional list.

Here’s how I’d sum up everything above:

Advantages of Working in Investment Banking at the Bulge Bracket Banks:

  • Brand Name & Alumni Network: Everyone knows your firm, which is helpful for finance and non-finance roles.
  • Broad Exit Opportunities: You have good options for both finance and non-finance companies because of the brand, network, and access to recruiters.
  • Larger, More Complex Deals: You’ll work with multi-billion-dollar corporations instead of family-owned businesses, so the analysis is often more in-depth.
  • Compensation: You’ll earn more than you would at smaller firms but less than at the elite boutiques.

Disadvantages of Working in Investment Banking at the Bulge Bracket Banks:

  • Extremely Competitive: To win offers, you must start early, ideally attend a top university or MBA program, and have excellent work experience and networking.
  • Long Hours and Unpredictable Lifestyle: You won’t have much of a life for the first few years (even with “protected weekends” and other measures).
  • Larger Teams: While the deals may be more complex, larger deal teams also mean that Associates and VPs may do more of the interesting work.
  • Compensation: Higher percentages of compensation start to become deferred and paid in stock as you get promoted, and the absolute numbers may be less than elite boutique pay as well.
  • Regional Variations: Finally, depending on your region, domestic banks might have better deal flow than the BB banks.

If you’re not sure of your long-term plans and you’re competitive for roles at the largest banks, sure, go for it.

But if you are more certain and you can win offers at the elite boutiques or buy-side firms, one of those could be a better alternative.

And if you don’t know where you have a realistic chance, go back to Square One and review our coverage of how to get into investment banking.

Final Note: Everything in this article refers to investment banking jobs. If you are interested in corporate banking, wealth management, IT, or other areas, the top firms and groups differ.

The larger banks still offer advantages over smaller ones, but the rankings change depending on your area of interest. We may cover these points in future updates (for more, see our coverage of wealth management vs. investment banking).

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Is DB worth it for a target school student?

    1. Impossible to answer because I don’t know your other options, your work experience, grades, activities, etc. If DB is your best option, sure, take it. If you’d be competitive for other banks based on a high GPA, solid networking, and 1-2 good finance internships, prioritize the other banks.

  2. Thanks so much!

  3. PriceMechanism

    This is a fantastic article, and glad you brought up the alternative options that the tech sector have. The grass is only greener where it is watered!

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