ORIGINS AND EARLY HISTORY
The origins of Merchant Banking go back to the middle of the 18th Century, when an epoch making event - the Industrial Revolution - took place. Interestingly, at about the same time, there was an important development on the theoretical front. Adam Smith's pioneering effort, also acknowledged as the first major work in the field of Economics, 'An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth Of Nations' made its appearance. What Adam Smith had propounded two centuries ago, namely - do only what you can do best - technically called the Theory of Comparative Advantage, is now being rehashed as the Core Competency theory by management gurus.
Then as now, the basic document for import-export, was the Bill of Exchange. However importers found that the exporters were not willing to execute documents 'accepted' by everyone. Only the 'acceptances' of a few established merchants were acceptable. Thus, these established merchants, were signing documents on behalf of others - naturally for a small fee. Soon these merchants found that this was a business that had immense potential and established 'Acceptance Houses' exclusively to handle this activity. These Acceptance Houses, set up by renowned names such as Hambros, Warburg, Rothschilds and others, were the ancestors of the current merchant and investment banks.
As the scope of what constituted business expanded, the products a merchant banker dealt with increased. Soon another pre-requisite became vital -
knowledge. This automatically translated into the
ability to research, evolve, design and
At this point, the term
Investment Banking came into being, thus reflecting the diverse activities that erstwhile merchant bankers took up. However both the terms are used for one another, and in practical terms there is as much difference between them as between an astronaut (American) and a cosmonaut (Russian)!
The activities of investment banking have largely remained within what may be termed as the economic sphere of business. An illustrative, but not exhaustive list of activities, undertaken by merchant bankers, is given below. There may be variations from country to country, depending on the legal framework obtaining therein.
- Acceptance Credit and Bill Discounting
- Bankers to the Issue (only commercial banks)
- Corporate Counselling
- Credit Syndication and Project Finance
- Fixed Deposit Broking
- International Finance
- Investment Research
- Issue Management (for fund raises and consolidation products)
- Management of Mutual Funds
- Mergers & Acquisitions
- Private equity placements
- NRI Counselling and Management (only Indian investment banks)
- Pension Fund Management
- Portfolio Management
- Rehabilitation & Restructuring of Sick Companies
- Venture Capital Financing