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The 10 Most Powerful M&A Firms in the World

Marsha Lewis
VP of Marketing at DealRoom

Should anyone ever doubt the resilience of M&A activity, they should look no further than what was witnessed in 2020.

Despite most of the global economy grinding to a halt for a significant part of the year, global deal making continued unabashed.

Despite most investment bankers being forced to work remotely, and most buyers being unable to visit target companies in person, at $3.16 trillion, global deal volume was only down 6% on the 2019 figure.

At DealRoom we work with investment banks a lot providing them tools for M&A and below, we look at the 10 most powerful M&A firms in the world, using their 2020 deal flow as a proxy.

Just as was the case in 2018 and 2019, Goldman Sachs topped the list of 2020’s biggest deal makers.

Morgan Stanley managed to regain second place from JP Morgan, although the total volume of deals was significantly down across all three investment banks.

As one might expect, the rest of the top 10 is a veritable who’s who of the world’s most influential M&A advisors.

Best M&A Companies

  1. Goldman Sachs
  2. Morgan Stanley
  3. JP Morgan
  4. Bank of America
  5. Credit Suisse
  6. Citi
  7. Barclays
  8. Lazard
  9. UBS
  10. Rothschild

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs was once the outsider of the big Wall Street investment banks, but several decades of success in the 20th century, most notably when its underwriting of the Ford Motor Company IPO brought it to the top table, where it has remained ever since.

In 2020, the firm’s deals totalled $966 billion, an 18% decrease on the 2019 figure. 2020 was yet another year in which the company flexed its muscles in the TMT sector, advising on severa deals, notably Visa’s $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid in January.

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Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley continued 2020 the way it ended 2019: with several in-house acquisitions brought in to strengthen its service portfolio.

The highlight of these was the February acquisition of E*Trade for just over $13 billion, giving the bank access to five million retail investors and perhaps more importantly, valuable insight into billions of individual trades made every year.

In terms of advisory highlights, Morgan Stanley advised India’s Reliance Industries (RIL) in its $5.7 billion part buyout by Facebook in the first half of the year.

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JP Morgan

With its celebrity investment banker CEO Jamie Dimon at the helm, JP Morgan is seldom far from the headlines these days.It finished the year with a total deal value of $772  billion spread across 289 transactions.

The company is one to watch; at the end of 2020, it poached several well-known deal makers in an effort to overhaul Goldman Sachs at the top of the M&A advisory table. IT already leads in M&A for insurance underwriters, a 2020 highlight being its role as intermediary in AXA’s $15.4 billion acquisition of XL Limited.

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Having reached an impressive 4h position on this list in 2019, 2020 saw Citi fall back to 6th place. Its total deal volume fell by a massive 43% when compared with 2019, dropping from $704 billion to $395 billion. Interestingly, however, it is the number one advisor in the EMEA region, thanks to its extensive on-the-ground presence.

One of the reasons for the fall in transaction volume has been attributed to the bank not advising on any megadeals: Although it advised on four deals worth over $1 billion in 2020, there were none in excess of $10 billion. 

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Bank of America

Things are looking up at Bank of America. It has climbed the M&A tables for the second consecutive year, moving from 5th to 4th place, even though deal volumes were down over 16% on their 2019 equivalent at $551 billion.

This performance is partly down to it gaining an edge in the oil and gas industry, where it advised on a few megadeals in 2020.

Principal among these was its advisor role on IFM Investors’ $11.2 billion acquisition of Buckeye Partners LP. This central role in the industry could prove to be a huge advantage to BofA in the years ahead, as big oil adapts to the energy transition.

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Credit Suisse

Like Bank of America, the biggest deal that Credit Suisse advised on in 2020 was from the oil and gas industry. It advised Chevron on its $14.7 billion acquisition of Noble Energy, which closed in the third quarter of 2020.

After a few relatively barren years, the bank can look back at 2020 as being a positive one, as it was the only bank in the top 5 on this list which increased its annual deal volume. This helped it move from 7th position in 2019 to 5th in 2020. Its total transaction volume in 2020 was $381 billion, spread across 132 deals.

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Barclay’s may be beginning to feel the pinch of Brexit in 2021, as the reality of the UK leaving the EU finally dawns on investors. However, it should be able to count on its M&A advisory arm to generate revenue for the group.

Despite a 16.4% decrease in transaction volumes in 2020, it still managed to climb one position on this list, moving from 8th to 7th. In 2020, it advised on 155 deals worth a total of $289 billion. One notable highlight was its sell-side advisory to Dominion Energy, which was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway for $9.75 billion in July.

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Lazard is unusual among investment banks as it will surely be wishing 2021 is a repeat of 2020. Its deal volumes grew by over 16% from $231 billion to $269 billion.

This was mostly driven by its status as a top-10 bank in Europe and North America. It advised Visa on the buy-side in its acquisition of Plaid in the first quarter of the year (which currently looks like it could be in jeopardy due to antitrust concerns).

It is also now considered the strongest investment bank for restructuring advisory, which could be a considerable asset as companies everywhere restructure after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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2020 was a stellar year for the investment bankers of Swiss firm UBS. They increased deal volume by a remarkable 53%, allowing them to jump from 15th position on this list in 2019 to 9th in 2020.

The bank acquired the mandate for a number of big ticket deals in Europe in 2020, most notably Siemens Healthineers’ $16.4 billion acquisition of Varian in the second half of the year.

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The historied London bank re-entered the top 10 investment banks in 2020, registering a surge in deal volume. Like UBS in 9th, its deal volume increased by over 50% on its 2019 figure, allowing the company to jump six positions from 16th.

What’s notable, however, is that the company tends to advise on smaller deals in greater volume. In 2020, it advised on a total of 272 deals with a total value of $252 billion (making it the only bank in the top 10 to advise on a n average deal size of less than $1 billion).

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