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How to Get an Investment Banking Internship at a Boutique Bank

It’s no secret that getting an investment banking internship or analyst role is not the easiest thing in the world, particularly if you don’t have a 4.0 GPA from Wharton. Traditional recruiting channels for top boutiques and bulge bracket banks are hyper-competitive and not always realistic options. The fact is that on-campus recruiting and networking simply may not work.

The good news is that this is not the only pathway into the industry. The other good news is that once you’re in the industry it becomes very easy to move around. All you need to do is get that initial break and get some experience.

It really doesn’t matter if you have no experience, a low GPA, or your father doesn’t go golfing with Jamie Dimon.

With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to target smaller banks, such as regional or industry-focused boutiques. These can give you the same or better experience with a lower bar to entry. Your cringe LinkedIn internship post may not be as sexy, but you’ll still be spreading comps and not getting enough sleep.

What is a Boutique Investment Bank?

J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Centerview, and Evercore all provide capital markets and advisory services to the world’s largest organizations, whether that’s Fortune 500 companies, mega fund and upper middle market private equity, or the cancer-curing biotech looking to IPO.

The thing is, that’s a small fraction of the business universe. Think about a local car dealership chain, small manufacturing facility, or staffing agency. What happens when they need to sell the business, acquire a competitor, or raise capital? That’s where regional boutique investment banks come into play. 

Frequently these banks are started by senior bankers who either have experience at bulge brackets or in a specific industry niche. They made the decision to stand-up their own shop and capture a bigger piece of the economics, get some work-life balance, or both. 

These shops can be anywhere from 5-10 people to a few hundred. It may be one or two senior MDs bringing in all the business, or it could be a broader wealth management firm with an investment banking arm to service clients. Point is, they come in all shapes and sizes.

How Do You Find a Boutique Investment Bank?

This is actually one of the easiest parts of the whole process. If you have access, it’s pretty simple to complete a FactSet or CapitalIQ pull. Just search for a list of investment banks in a certain geography. If you don’t have access, you can also get to the same spot with a few Google searches.

Come up with a list of places that you think are worth getting in touch with. Later in the post we’ll touch on how to evaluate options.

It’s really pretty simple. Just type into Google, for example, ‘Philadelphia investment bank’. You can rinse and repeat for any city you’d be okay living in. You’d be surprised at the number of these shops in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

If you’re planning on cold Emailing, which I think you should, go ahead and find one/two of the most senior bankers on the website and drop them into your Excel, along with any available Email. 

Check back soon for another post detailing the cold Emailing process for investment banking internships and analyst roles. In the meantime, get to work and go shoot off some Emails. Just make sure you spell the name of the bank and banker correctly.

How Do I Pick a Good Boutique?

It is important that you use some discretion here. Not every boutique investment bank internship or analyst position will be worth taking. Not every bank will be worth emailing either.

A general rule of thumb is that the larger the firm, the more structured it is and the easier your lateral move will be down the line if you want to. However, there are a few nuances to this as well.

I’ve found that a great strategy is to target industry-specific banks. Particularly good are those started by seniors that have spent their careers at established global banks. These shops likely have great industry connections, which means sustained deal flow of high quality transactions.

This type of firm is typically very specialized and are really good at what they do. Maybe they even win significant mandates ahead of bulge bracket banks. That means there’s a good chance you’ll be exposed to industry best practices and get an equivalent, if not better, experience than your counterparts in coverage groups at a bulge bracket. Not bad for a boutique investment banking internship that most people don’t think to consider.

As an example, there are a number of boutiques that focus exclusively on early-stage biotech, an area that is prime for capital raising and sell-side M&A. A boutique with a strong senior team will constantly be pulling in new mandates through their network, providing higher-touch advisory than would be possible at a larger firm (very appealing for clients, obviously).

The mid-levels at a place like this will have spent a career focused solely on biotech. This means they’ll likely be experts at proper industry-specific modeling, terminology, market landscape, and buyer/investor universes. Spending a year or two here will turn you into a top biotech investment banking analyst. That’s something that is highly desirable to healthcare groups at larger banks.

More specifically, an internship at boutique investment banks like MTS Health Partners and Torreya Partners would be highly transferrable. These specific banks are established platforms and will be harder to get into, but similar opportunities at smaller shops exist.

And How Do I Avoid the Bad Ones?

On the flip side, there are some potential warning signs you should keep an eye out for to make sure you don’t end up in some business broker bucket shop.

An easy thing you can check is announced transactions on the bank’s website. Is there decent volume, or are they few and far between? Dates might not be included on the tombstone, but you can Google the company’s name and get an estimate for when a transaction occurred. Bonus points if you actually recognize any of the company logos.

Example of recent transaction tombstones at a boutique investment bank
Example of recent transaction tombstones at a boutique investment bank

Take a quick read of backgrounds of senior bankers. There are exceptions, but I would tend to steer clear of any shops with no prior banking experience. You don’t want to work for a former used car salesman who thought they’d try their hand at banking. Sometimes deep industry-specific experience is okay, but ideally there is at least someone else on the team with banking know-how that can complement an industry-only person.

Later in the process, it’s probably wise to avoid a place that asks you to work for free. This is most likely at the summer analyst level, but can happen for full time roles as well. At best this means they don’t value their interns, and at worst implies that the boutique is not performing particularly well.

There are probably a million more red flags to watch out for, but you’ll be fine as long as you follow your intuition.

It’s also worth considering that a bad role is better than no investment banking internship or analyst spot. Definitely don’t worry if you don’t land something ideal. You can spin any experience into a good story when it’s time to move on.

Why Should I Target a Boutique?

While an internship or analyst role at a boutique investment bank may not have been exactly what dreamt of, it’s definitely an option worth exploring if you know you want to pursue a career in finance.

Stopping by a boutique may be a last option for a junior summer analyst role or a full-time analyst role. Or, it could be a fantastic early exposure and resume builder for freshman and sophomore summer analysts. These types of places are also ideal for off-cycle investment banking internships (think fall, winter, spring internships).

Either way, these shops will have much more unstructured recruiting and are an ideal way to get your foot in the door. This is especially important if you have a low GPA, no prior internships, or are currently attending Eastern Dakota Community College for the Arts.

You might find that you have a better junior experience at a boutique than you would elsewhere. You’re likely to get a lot more exposure to senior bankers. You’ll almost certainly have more exposure to clients and directly interface with C-suites. And you may end up with better technical skills. You’d be surprised at the number of bulge bracket analysts that spend two years moving logos around a page and can’t model to save their lives. 

Best of all, you may actually go home before 2 a.m. and avoid working through your weekends.

My Personal Experience at an Industry-Focused Boutique

I personally worked at two separate boutique investment banks for both my junior summer analyst stint and for a year as a full time analyst. 

I had a subpar GPA from a liberal arts school without a significant presence on Wall Street. That meant I consistently struck out on traditional recruiting. Usually I didn’t even get a chance to interview. Realistically, a boutique was my only way to get an investment banking internship and break in to finance.

I wasn’t thrilled at the time, but it ended up being a great launchpad for my career. At roughly the 8-10 month mark as an analyst, I started recruiting for lateral positions at other banks. I got interviews almost everywhere I applied, ending up in the same industry group at a so-called ‘Elite Boutique’. I was also able to successfully recruit for middle market private equity on the same timeline as the rest of my graduating class.

Landing that spot felt great after thinking I’d struck out. I didn’t think it would be possible coming from a ~5-person bank.

That said, I’ve since seen others do this as well. I’ve now also been on the other side of the table interviewing candidates, so I can confidently say this path is very much possible.

Drop a comment if you have any questions or if you have a boutique experience of your own to share.

Sam Hillier

Sam Hillier is a reporter at Transacted covering private equity and investment banking. He previously spent time as an investment professional focused on direct buyouts, as well as an earlier strategic advisory stint.