Insider (word) trading – an outsider’s guide to decoding the language of investment bankers

Like a lost tribe severed from the rest of the world, investment banking has developed its own seemingly indecipherable language. We’re not talking “shorting” and “IPOs” and “EBITDA” – we’re talking “Tom Hanks racing around the world, wondering what the hell everyone is talking about and trying to unlock a secret code over the course of three films” sort of complex. This is deep knowledge, guys. Deep knowledge.

So whether you’re a fresh-faced analyst a year or two away from your first gray hairs or just a world-renowned linguist researching for your latest book on the Lost Tribes of Wall Street, The DealRoom has pulled together seven of our favorite phrases only investment bankers will truly understand. It’s like a quiz, where the prize is knowing what the hell investment bankers are talking about.

“I waited over an hour for The Staffer to take a call so I could slip by unnoticed.”

The Staffer is a jinx; a bringer of bad luck that disguises him or herself in the clothing of an associate or senior banker while wielding the power to obliterate any semblance of free time you think you have. Technically speaking, they “manage the workflow” which means making eye contact with the Staffer on the way to the washroom on a Friday around, say, 5pm, is a precarious position to put oneself in. Learn the term but more importantly, learn to avoid them like the plague… for your own sake.

“Fire drill boys, we’re missing two slides in the Whitman presentation.”

Translation: your life is hell for the unforeseeable future. Unlike its name suggests a “fire drill” is not a drill but a call to arms pointing your attention at a project with a staggeringly short turnaround time. This can include anything from hashing out an analysis on little-to-no notice to pulling together slides for the MD – either way you’re relieved of other duties until the fire is put out.

“Feels a bit like a bear raid to me.”

A close relative to picking on the weak kid in the class, a “bear raid” is the cruel (and super shady) practice of traders meeting for brews and choosing a company to denigrate through short selling and spreading market disinformation. While deliberately manipulating stock prices is totally and utterly illegal, bear raids are sometimes resorted to by sketchy short sellers looking to collude to make a quick profit on their short positions.

“Did you see the dead cat bounce on the ––––– stock?”

A vivid masterpiece of investment banking colloquialism, “dead cat bounce” is the notion that even a dead cat will bounce if it falls hard and fast enough. It describes the slight uptick on a formerly plummeting stock price mostly fueled by short sellers taking profit and oblivious (or straight up ballsy) investors buying up stock thinking it can’t go lower.

“Drinks Friday? I can’t, I have to hit this beauty pageant with the MD.”

Another shining example apt to appeal to any analyst who’s pushed through a few months of 80-plus hours staring at screens, “beauty pageant” refers to touring a company that’s in the opening phase of an Initial Public Offering. From the investment banker’s perspective, a beauty pageant can mean big money for a firm.

“Closing dinner Friday? Hell yes!”

More or less the antithesis to a beauty pageant, as its name suggest, the Closing Dinner is often an alcohol-fueled adulation to the success of a deal. In other words, that fire drill you slaved over is your ticket to the party. Yes, there will be an unusual display of excess. No, as a lowly analyst, you will not set your eyes on the bill.

“Whatever you do, don’t touch the MD’s tombstones.”

Tombstones (otherwise known as deal toys) are the investment banker equivalent to the medieval king or queen’s heads on pikes. These trinkets, as mundane as they may seem lined up on your MD’s desk, are the scores of the deal-making battleground; tangible reminders of the firm’s biggest dealings. They also often carry with them superstitious meaning so if you ever want a weekend off again, don’t touch them.


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