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Investment Banking

Overview of the investment banking industry

What is Investment Banking?

Investment banking is the division of a bank or financial institution that serves governments, corporations, and institutions by providing underwriting (capital raising) and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory services. Investment banks act as intermediaries between investors (who have money to invest) and corporations (who require capital to grow and run their businesses). This guide will cover what investment banking is and what bankers actually do.


diagram of how investment banking works
How investment banking works


What do investment banks do?

There can sometimes be confusion between an investment bank and the investment banking division (IBD) of a bank. Full-service investment banks offer a wide range of services that include underwriting, M&A, sales and trading, equity research, and asset management. The investment banking division of a bank provides only the underwriting and M&A advisory services.


investment banking activities


Full-service banks offer the following services:

  • Underwriting – Capital raising and underwriting groups work between investors and companies that want to raise money or go public via the IPO process. This function serves the primary market or “new capital”.
  • Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) – Advisory roles for both buyers and sellers of businesses, managing the M&A process start to finish.
  • Sales & Trading – Matching up buyers and sellers of securities in the secondary market.  Sales and trading groups in investment banking act as agents for clients and also can trade the firm’s own capital.
  • Equity Research – The equity research group research or “coverage” of securities helps investors make investment decisions and supports trading of stocks.
  • Asset Management – Managing investments for a wide range of investors including institutions and individuals, across a wide range of investment styles.


Underwriting Services in Investment Banking

Underwriting is the process of raising capital through selling stocks or bonds to investors (e.g., an initial public offing IPO) on behalf of corporations. Businesses need money to operate and grow their businesses, and the bankers help them get that money by marketing the company to investors.

There are generally three types of underwriting:

  • Firm Commitment – The underwriter agrees to buy the entire issue and assume full financial responsibility for any unsold shares.
  • Best Efforts – Underwriter commits to selling as much of the issue as possible at the agreed-on offering price but can return any unsold shares to the issuer without financial responsibility.
  • All-or-None – If the entire issue cannot be sold at the offering price, the deal is called off and the issuing company receives nothing.


Once the bank has started marketing the offering, the following book-building steps are taking to price and complete the deal.

investment banking underwriting process
Book building process


M&A advisory services

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory is the process of helping corporations and institutions find, evaluate, and complete acquisitions of businesses. This is a key function in investment banking. Banks use their extensive networks and relationships to find opportunities and help negotiate on their client’s behalf. Bankers advise on both sides of M&A transactions, representing either the “buy side” or the “sell side” of the deal.

Below is an overview of the 10-step mergers and acquisitions process.



Investment banking clients

Investment bankers advise a wide range of clients on their capital raising and M&A needs. These clients can be located around the world.

Investment banks’ clients include:

  • Governments – Investment banks work with governments to raise money, trade securities, and buy or sell crown corporations.
  • Corporations – Bankers work with private and public companies / operating businesses (known as “corporations” or “corporates”) to help them go public (IPO), raise additional capital, grow their business, make acquisitions, sell business units, and provide research for them and general corporate finance advice.
  • Institutions – Banks work with institutional investors who manage other people’s money (known as “institutions”) to help them trade securities and provide research.


Investment banking skills

Investment banking work requires a lot of financial modeling and valuation.  Whether for underwriting or M&A activities, Analysts and Associates at banks spend a lot of time in Excel building financial models and use various valuation methods to advise their clients and complete deals.

Investment banking requires the following skills:

  • Financial modeling
  • Business valuation
  • Pitchbooks and presentations
  • Transaction documents
  • Relationship management
  • Sales and business development
  • Negotiation


LBO model used by an investment bank

The screenshot above is of a leveraged buyout (LBO) model from CFI’s financial modeling courses.


Careers in investment banking

Getting into investment banking is very challenging.  There are far more applicants than there are positions, sometimes as high as 100 to 1. We’ve published a guide on how to ace an investment banking interview for more information on how to break into Wall Street.

In addition, you’ll want to check out our example of real interview questions from an investment bank. In preparing for your interview it also helps to take courses on financial modeling and valuation.

The most common job titles (from most junior to senior) in investment banking are:

  • Analyst
  • Associate
  • Vice President
  • Director
  • Managing Director
  • Head, Vice Chair, or another special title


Investment banking careers


Who are the main investment banks?

The main banks, also known as the bulge bracket in investment banking are:

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Barclays Capital
  • Citi
  • Credit Suisse
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Goldman Sachs
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Morgan Stanley
  • UBS

View a full list of investment banks here.

Additional resources

This is been an overview of investment banking and how the industry works. To learn more about career paths and how to break into banking, please see these additional resources:

  • What is financial modeling?
  • Valuation methods
  • Financial modeling guide
  • Investment banking salaries

FMVA certification program

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