What is an Investment Bank and How Does it Work?

In the current financial landscape, a surge of companies is launching Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), each accompanied by a hefty prospectus exceeding 500 pages. Within these documents lie the intricacies of the company's valuation, industry analysis, and competitor assessments. Have you ever pondered over the minds behind this extensive process? Look no further than investment bankers.

But, before we unravel the essence of an investment bank, let's demystify what this term encompasses. Investment banks represent a specialized realm within banking operations, dedicated to procuring funds for both organizations and individuals while providing a spectrum of ancillary services. These services span financial and advisory realms, extending to proprietary trading. For a deeper comprehension of the nuanced world of investment banking, let's delve into the essence of what an investment bank is and how it functions.

Investment Bank

What is an Investment Bank?

An investment bank stands as a pivotal financial institution, undertaking a crucial intermediary role in complex and high-value monetary transactions. Its purview extends to orchestrating Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), managing mergers and acquisitions, overseeing liquidation processes, and even facilitating takeovers. Additionally, these entities function as adept financial advisors and brokers for substantial institutional clients.

Primarily, investment banks play a pivotal role in assisting businesses to secure funds through various channels in the capital markets. Their services typically involve:

1. Facilitating the raising of capital through debt mechanisms.

2. Assisting in acquiring equity capital.

3. Managing and insuring bonds.

4. Spearheading the launch of new products.

Noteworthy investment banks globally encompass industry titans such as Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and the Bank of America.

Within the Indian financial landscape, prominent investment banks include Avendus Capital, IDBI Capital, Edelweiss Financial Services Limited, JM Financial Institutions Securities, and MAPE Capital Advisors. These entities play a pivotal role in shaping financial strategies and contributing to the dynamic ecosystem of the Indian economy.

Difference between Investment Banking and Commercial Bank

The table below highlights the key differences between these two financial institutions:

Basis of Comparison

Commercial Banks

Investment Banks


Commercial banks are financial institutions that offer services such as lending money, accepting deposits, and making payments on standing orders. 

Investment banks are those financial institutions that provide brokerage services and underwriting of securities, among others. 

Type of service

Standardized services

Client-specific services

Customer base

Millions of customers

A few hundred clients

Key role

Enable a country’s demand for credit and economic growth.

Facilitate the performance of a nation’s financial market.

Type of clientele

Caters to all citizens

Offers services to corporations, individuals, as well as Governments

Means of income generations

Fees and interests

Commissions, fees, and profit from trading activities

Services offered (primary)

Mortgaging loans, lending, and allowing deposits

Buying and selling of stocks and bonds

Services offered (secondary)

Issuing promissory notes, overdrafts, internet banking, locker facilities, card facilities, mobile banking, etc.

Asset management, raising funds, brokerage services, underwriting of securities advisory services, mergers and acquisitions, etc.

Investment Bank

How does an Investment Bank work?

The functioning of investment banks can be dissected into two distinct categories:

Sell-side: The sell-side plays a pivotal role in the market by participating in activities such as selling newly issued IPO shares, providing market-making services, placing fresh bond issues, and aiding clients in various transactions. This facet of investment banking is intricately linked to the issuance and selling of financial instruments, ensuring a dynamic marketplace.

Buy-side: On the flip side, the buy-side is immersed in the trading of securities, encompassing bonds and stocks, with the overarching objective of maximizing returns. Collaborating closely with entities like mutual funds, pension funds, and hedge funds, the buy-side orchestrates strategic moves to optimize investment portfolios and navigate the complexities of the financial markets.

Segmentation of an Investment Bank

The intricate workings of an investment bank can be further segmented into crucial divisions based on the spectrum of services they offer:

Back Office: In the realm of back-office services, the focus lies on ensuring the seamless functioning of software and platforms for traders. This includes meticulous oversight to ensure accurate transactions of securities and the development of innovative trading algorithms.

Front Office: The front office plays a pivotal role in directly engaging with clients and transactions. Services provided here encompass assisting corporations in mergers and acquisitions, expert management of investments for high-net-worth individuals and institutions, strategic formulation, comprehensive capital market research and analysis, and corporate finance.

Middle Office: The middle office acts as a critical intermediary, ensuring the smooth flow of capital and strict adherence to government regulations and restrictions. This segment plays a vital role in maintaining financial compliance and strategic oversight.

Also read: What is a Bank Run?

The bottom line

In a nutshell, the nuanced functions of investment banks encapsulate these distinct services across back, front, and middle-office divisions. This comprehensive breakdown aims to provide clarity on the multifaceted operations of investment banks and their distinctive features compared to commercial banks, thereby offering a holistic understanding of their roles in the financial landscape.

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