investment banks

Moelis turns to mammoth banks for IPO

March 4, 2014: 5:24 PM ET

Moelis may be a champion for the boutique bank, but when it comes to his IPO, he's seeking guidance from the big guys.

By Lauren Silva Laughlin

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

FORTUNE -- Potential clients of Ken Moelis's eponymous investment bank needn't look any further than the cover of the prospectus for the firm's initial public offering to see the limits of independent advisory firms. Moelis has chosen two very familiar -- and large -- institutions to run its IPO: Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

To be sure, independent advisory firms have been taking merger business away from larger banks. According to Moelis's prospectus, 80% of the top 10 announced M&A deals and 75% of the top 20 announced M&A deals included independent advisors in 2013, up significantly from 2003, when 30% of both the top 10 and top 20 included independent advisors. It's hard to deny Moelis's success in luring bankers from top firms.

Part of the attraction is Moelis's independence -- or the idea that it doesn't have overlapping businesses that can make money from clients in several ways. In September, Moelis told Fortune, "The aberration isn't the boutique. The aberration is the belief that it could all be conducted more effectively under one roof. The world developed with advisory and investment banks and commercial banks separate for a reason. It was only a short time ago that everything was put together."

Bulge bracket bankers, though conflicted, like to point out that their advice is more well-rounded. Boutiques don't have their finger on the pulse of the capital markets, they say. For multifaceted deals, a larger bank will always need to be involved.

Moelis's choice of advisors gives some credence to the big banks' argument. He's built up his own capital markets group, but it doesn't seem to be enough to bring his own firm to the market. His own clients may want to take note.

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