Despite Covid-19, 2020 was a banner year for investment banking, with IPOs and bond issues standing out.

Author: Joel Kranc

Our headline for last year’s ranking of the World’s Best Investment Banks was “Epidemic Threatens Growth.” The pandemic had just begun. This year’s winners faced a once-in-a-century event and still maintained operations and market position while managing to strengthen their positions and revenue globally.

For the fourth year in a row, J.P. Morgan takes the top spot of Best Investment Bank globally and in North America, as well as global Best Equity Bank. Year over year, Morgan grew its share of investment banking revenue in all sectors (M&A, equity and debt capital markets, and syndicated loans) by 9%, or $8.5 billion, significantly higher than the previous year’s $6 billion.

As the dust from the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis begins to settle, however, a reckoning may be in store even for the best performing banks—more so even than last year. McKinsey & Company, in its Global Banking Annual Review, notes that in the months and years to come, recovery will pose a two-stage problem for banks.

“First will come severe credit losses, likely through late 2021,” McKinsey writes. “Then, amid a muted global recovery, banks will face a profound challenge to ongoing operations that may persist beyond 2024. Depending on scenario, from $1.5 trillion to $4.7 trillion in cumulative revenue could be forgone.”

Against that backdrop, the investment banking industry will be transformed. Deloitte, in its Bank of 2030: The Future of Investment Banking report, says institutions “will transition from a full-scale service model to a bifurcation of two broker archetypes: ‘client capturers’ that specialize in front-office functions and ‘flow players’ that focus primarily on middle-office functions.” By shedding noncore assets, Deloitte argues, investment banks will become more-datacentric organizations that can better serve clients by modeling behavior using artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to predict activities and risk tolerances.

That said, the past year has seen plenty of expectations defied, and many subsectors and regions of the investment banking industry showed great strength.

According to data from Refinitiv, total global investment banking fees reached an all-time high. Debt and equity accounted for a large share of the growth in activity while equity-underwriting fees were up 78%. Fees were “bolstered by a resurgent market for IPOs [initial public offerings] and record follow-on and convertible bond issuance,” Refinitiv says.

Only two regions showed a decline in revenue in 2020: Latin America fell by 21% while the Middle East and Africa dropped 9%, according to Dealogic’s Investment Banking Scorecard. Globally, investment banking revenue rose to $93.2 billion.

Globally, the fourth quarter of 2020 saw the largest revenue growth of the year, more than $26 billion. The top five sectors driving that growth, according to Dealogic, were financial institutions, technology, health care, industrials, and energy and natural resources.

Best Global Investment Bank

The year’s record growth is reflected in the results our global winner posted for 2020. “Investment banking fees were up 25% for the year and we grew share to its highest level in a decade,” J.P. Morgan CFO Jennifer Piepszak noted in a fourth-quarter earnings call discussing the results. “In advisory, we were up 19% year on year, driven by the closing of several large transactions.”

J.P. Morgan acted as adviser on two of the largest health care deals this past year: Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ $39 billion sale to AstraZeneca and Immunomedics’ $21 billion sale to Gilead Sciences.

“Looking forward … the overall pipeline remains robust,” Piepszak added. “We expect M&A to remain active on improved overall CEO confidence.”

Best Boutique Investment Bank

Evercore, the firm that former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Roger Altman founded in 1995, now boasts more than 100 partners who executed $4 trillion worth of mergers, acquisitions, recapitalizations and restructuring transactions in 2020. Adjusted net revenue for Evercore last year was $2.3 billion, slightly ahead of its 2019 take of $2 billion. Adjusted net income grew year over year from $373 million to $460 million.

Some of Evercore’s notable transactions in 2020 included advising AstraZeneca on its $39 billion acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, advising PNC Bank on its $11.6 billion acquisition of BBVA’s US business and as joint bookrunner in the $1.2 billion IPO of Reynolds Consumer Products.

Best Bank for IPOs

While public offerings slowed somewhat last spring, numbers picked up throughout the year, not least of all as companies leaned on remote work to circumvent Covid-19’s in-person impossibilities. Morgan Stanley, 2020 Best Bank for IPOs, accounted for a 10% of the traditional IPO market worldwide in 2020, with more than 28% share for health care equity offerings in Asia as of midyear.

“It’s been an incredibly busy period of deal activity,” says Eddie Molloy, managing director and co-head of equity capital markets, Americas, at Morgan Stanley, in an article on the company website. “A lot of these companies are either beneficiaries of our changed world or somewhat immune to how the world has changed. And investors are looking for opportunities that are well suited for this new environment.”

Many of this year’s offerings were in health care and technology, as health solutions and digital technologies have been in high demand. Recent health care IPOs include Zentalis, which debuted publicly in April; and Amwell, which went public in September. In technology, the ZoomInfo and Warner Music Group IPOs were also underwritten by Morgan Stanley.

Best in Emerging Markets

Russia’s dominant player, VTB Capital, takes not only Best in Emerging Markets, but also overall Best Investment Bank and Best for Equities in the CEE region. “VTB has spent the last few years organizing its corporate and investment banking platform to provide integrated solutions for clients across Russia, CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] and internationally,” says Alexei Yakovitsky, global CEO of VTB Capital.

Some of its notable work this past year included acting as joint lead manager and bookrunner on a $600 million eurobond issue by Russia’s State Transport Leasing Company, and the $1.25 billion convertible bond issue by the internet service provider Yandex. “Looking forward, we believe that the emerging market universe looks highly attractive from an investment and valuation perspective,” says Yakovitsky.

Best in Frontier Markets

EFG Hermes has built an impressive emerging and frontier market business from scratch in Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria and Kenya). In January 2020, the bank concluded its first cross border deal in East Africa and advised Pakistan’s United Bank on the sale of its Tanzanian subsidiary, UBL, to Exim Bank Tanzania.

“Following on from a strong 2019 and a healthy pipeline going into first-quarter 2020, the business slowed down materially given the challenges of Covid-19,” says Ali Khalpey, CEO of EFG Hermes Frontier. “With limited travel permitted, our team resorted to the use of video calls and virtual due diligence to continue to push forward various transactions. As we enter 2021, we are optimistic that the few deals we put on hold during the pandemic will be restarted.”

Best Up-and-Comer

PJT Partners was created in 2015, when Paul Taubman’s PJT Capital and The Blackstone Group’s advisory arm merged and then spun off as a financial and strategic advisory services and fund-placement firm.

PJT reported total revenue of $1.05 billion for 2020, up 47% from the previous year. Of that total, advisory revenue made up $872 million, up 53% from 2019; placement revenue of $162 million, up 22%; and $18 million of interest income and “other,” compared with $13 million in 2019.

Best for Sustainable Finance

Sustainable finance has come to the fore at BBVA, which earns the global award as Best Investment Bank for Sustainable Finance. BBVA’s greatest success this past year was in expanding its sustainability advisory services business, according to Ricardo Laiseca, head of BBVA’s Global Sustainability Office.

 “This new service with a global reach is focused on elevating the dialogue with clients around sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the transition toward a low-carbon economy,” he says. “We have been especially active in Mexico and the US; but we have also established good dialogue with clients in Spain, the UK, Peru, Colombia and Argentina. The total number of clients approached in 2020 is 35.”

BBVA launched both a green project finance loan and a green corporate loan in 2020. It also encourages borrowing companies to improve their sustainability performance and offers what it calls a gender loan, which factors in a discount based on gender equality-related performance.

“We continue to focus on expanding our product catalogue,” Lasaica says. This will include developing green supply chain finance deals and sustainable products in the global markets area and expanding sustainable finance into regions where it has not been as mainstream, such as the US and Latin America.

Best Multilateral Financial Institution

African Development Bank (AfDB) takes the title as Best Multilateral Finance Institution, after securing $90 million in international new donor commitments for its Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) and, in March, achieving $4.6 billion in bids for its $3 billion dollar social bond to fight Covid-19 in Africa.

Deal-making highlights include $25 million in funding for medium-scale independent power producers and a $43 million loan to finance the second phase of a major power transmission and interconnection project in Madagascar.

In a statement, the bank says it responded to the continent’s needs in the wake of Covid by “quickly repurposing its 2020 lending program and developing crisis-response budget support through an accelerated approval process.” This made possible “quick disbursements to provide the relevant fiscal space for countries to respond to the most pressing economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis as well as facilitate the purchase of critical imports and medical supplies necessary to fight the virus.”

Best Bank for Client-Facing Technology

DBS, originating in Singapore, may be blessed with one of the world’s most technologically adept and engaged populations, and the bank has built up services to match. Today, more than 95% of regular banking transactions at DBS are done via its digital-bank mobile app.

Recently, the bank partnered with Singapore’s Government Technology Agency to pilot SingPass Face Verification technology, to add a level of security—and sophistication—to client interactions.

“Our teams at DBS Institutional Banking Group have gone beyond traditional corporate and commercial banking solutions to bring bespoke advice and structured financial solutions to our clients,” says Tan Su Shan, group head of Institutional Banking.

Best Bank for New Financial Products

Rounding out the awards for 2020, Societe Generale made its mark as Best Bank for New Financial Products, based on its leadership in green and social bonds and bespoke solutions driven by corporate social responsibility (CSR), including renewable-energy financing. In May, the bank issued the first-ever green convertible bond in Europe for Neoen, a fast-growing renewable energy producer.

“Societe Generale, with its strong presence across Africa, has put the sustainable development of the continent at the core of its CSR strategy,” says Isabelle Millat, head of Sustainable Investment Solutions for Global Markets. With its “Positive Impact Support notes—Africa,” the bank commits to match the notes’ amounts with equivalent amounts of Positive Impact Financing loans in Africa. These loans finance hospitals and water treatment facilities, aiming to contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on good health, clean water and sanitation.

Meeting environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals is “a key focus for the whole organization and is becoming the starting point of each discussion with a client,” says Hacina Py, global head of Sustainable and Positive Impact Finance Solutions. “The training of all our front officers on ESG matters, from major trends in the energy transition to specific technical products, allows us to innovate throughout the chain.”

An example is the creation last fall of the first sustainability-linked bond in the building materials sector, an €850 million (about $1 billion) offering for LafargeHolcim.

Additionally, Societe Generale showed strength in creating innovative structured retail products. After the conclusion of a review last year, however, the bank announced it would reduce exposure to structured products linked to stocks and bonds. That may leave Societe Generale less vulnerable to losses during market dislocations, albeit at the sacrifice of some revenue. 


Global Finance editors and researchers, with input from a global range of executives, investors and consultants, used a series of criteria to select the winners of these awards, including market share, number, size and complexity of deals, service and advice, structuring capabilities, distribution network, efforts to address market conditions, innovation, after-market performance of underwritings and market reputation.

We used information provided by the banks, as well as material gathered from the other sources, to score and select winners, based on a proprietary algorithm that assigns a different weight to each component. Deals announced or completed in 2020 were considered.

In the review process, Global Finance has focused on the full spectrum of banks, from relatively small ones in frontier markets that have barely appeared on Wall Street’s radar screen to global banks that lead the league tables for equity, debt and M&A worldwide. The same applies to Deals Of The Year: They are selected not just for their size, but for creativity in devising solutions to the complex capital needs of the modern corporation.

This year, added weight has been assigned to flexibility and innovation in crisis response in light of the year’s unprecedented conditions. As a result, for the first time we have recognized investment banks for Best For Crisis Finance Response on global and regional bases.

Many winners submitted, in support of their applications, information and perspectives that may not be publicly available. Banks that do not submit entries can still be selected as winners through Global Finance’s review process, because editors execute their own unbiased original research in addition to evaluating entries. However, experience shows that the banks that submit entries successfully presenting themselves as model financial institutions, with detailed explanations of differentiation in services for corporate clients as compared with services provided by peers, achieve better results.

Financial institutions that submitted entries provided information in the following areas: 1) Key financials, including earnings, ROE, and market share; 2) Details of key capabilities and services offered, including deal-structuring capabilities, distribution network and staff dedicated to investment banking; 3) Innovation in financing and new product introduction; and 4) Competitive pricing and after-market performance of underwritten securities. Global Finance adheres to journalistic best practices for protecting the confidentiality of information supplied in the entries.