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Starting a Boutique Investment Bank During a Pandemic

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Written by Finalis

Last edited in Oct 21, 2022

4 min read

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With nearly 20 years of investment banking experience, Justin Hand, Managing Director at Westcove Partners, is familiar with the ins and outs of the industry.

Hand, who started out his career as a banker in the healthcare vertical, worked for various established firms before deciding to embark on the journey of starting his own boutique investment bank.

But Hand’s startup would not be without unique challenges, as the launch of Westcove Partners coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, the investment banking firm was able to overcome pandemic-related obstacles and has successfully made a name for itself in the lower middle market.

Join us as we discuss:

  • The risks and rewards of launching a startup in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The importance of creating a customer-first culture.
  • The keys to starting a successful boutique investment bank in the lower middle market.
The risks and rewards of launching a startup during the pandemic

When COVID virtually shut down the United States in 2020, companies across the country had to deal with an overnight shift from in-office to remote work. And, unfortunately, some of these companies weren’t able to survive.

Others, like Westcove, adapted to the unsettling new conditions of the pandemic-ravaged world. Justin Hand explains that the investment banking firm successfully deployed remote work to make their day-to-day processes more efficient.

Time that would otherwise have been spent traveling to client prospects, drafting paperwork and holding out-of-town meetings, for example, could be consolidated into much quicker processes in a virtual setting.

“The abilities we were able to create by transacting in a remote environment created an enormous amount of efficiency in these processes, which I hope stays.” — Justin Hand

Creating a customer-first culture

Another key to Westcove’s startup success was the firm’s focus on nurturing meaningful relationships with its clients. Justin says that Westcove created this client-centric culture by:

Providing execution excellence

One of the best ways startup companies can create a customer-first culture is by having the technical capabilities to execute on transactions. But firms also need to offer a humane, empathetic approach to business that strives to always respect the interests of clients.

“Investment banking is very technical in nature, but you can teach that very easily. What you can't teach is someone's genuine interest in doing right by their clients.” — Justin Hand
Carefully selecting clients

By carefully selecting the clients that you choose to work with, Justin believes that companies can provide the best service possible to clients who are most invested in the business process.

This in turn gives the company the motivation to really focus on the clients, as they can work on projects that they actually care about.

“If you're not excited about a mandate, it's usually the thing at the bottom of the list as to where you allocate your time. It’s just human nature.” — Justin Hand
Hiring the best people

This one’s pretty straightforward: your company can’t succeed without the right people.

When first starting up, Justin says Westcove specifically sought out people who had a demonstrable passion for investment banking, but weren’t necessarily interested in working for larger firms.

Westcove looks for people whose business values align with its own approach of always providing top-notch client services. The firm then proactively nurtures these individuals through coaching and mentorships.

This combination of hiring the right people and then investing the time to develop their banking and work-life skills results in a genuine appreciation for the work being done.

The keys to starting a successful boutique investment bank in the lower middle market

Only halfway through its second year, Westcove is poised for continuing success in the coming years.

The investment banking firm has closed seven transactions in the last eight months alone, and is still growing its team with new hires. Additionally, Westcove is regularly picking up new clients even though it’s a risky decision for entrepreneurs to choose an investment bank that’s relatively new to the market.

But as its name suggests, the investment bank has proven to the market that it will offer a cove of protection for its clients in difficult situations. Justin says this approach has resonated with the market, as clients frequently acknowledge that Westcove’s services have greatly exceeded their expectations.

And the key, Justin says, is to believe in the quality of your work and, of course, put people first.

“We are leading with client service first.” — Justin Hand.

To hear this interview and many more like it, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website or search for Pencils Down in your favorite podcast player.

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