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Top 5 Leading Global Banks

Top 5 Leading Global Banks

A cursory search of “top global banks” will yield a list, typically according to size and assets, of a familiar set of names. While many of these same names are mentioned in this piece, understanding why a bank is considered a top global bank is much more nuanced than how big they are or how much they’ve netted.

Leading global banks are recognized as leading by their peers because they perform exceptionally well in one of more categories. No bank has a monopoly over leading performance in investments, digital services, sustainable finance or diversity and inclusion. It’s hard to the be the top dog in everything. Therefore, we’ve selected the leaders in each of the previously mentioned, timely categories, as these are the categories that are most relevant in 2019 and these are the banks that are setting trends and leading by example.


To begin, investments is a tough category to rank, but experts widely agree that Citi is the best investment bank in the world. While Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are highly regarded, when it comes to exceptional performance across regions (North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia), Citi rises to the top.

From an institutional client (ICG) perspective, the breadth and scale of Citi’s wholesale banking operations is best-in-class. The ICG unit is divided into a banking division on one end and a markets and a securities group on the other. Revenues in the $35 billion range were registered in 2017, which is 7 percent higher than the previous year. Morgan Stanley reported $37.5 billion and Goldman Sachs, a handful below, but Citi really shines when it comes to personalizing its business per region rather than providing a one-size-fits-all solution to clients across regions.

Digital Services

Bank of America and HSBC are high-flyers in this category, no doubt. But they are not flying as high at the moment as DBS. Mobile banking at the Singapore bank  is leading the pack, and the bank made a concerted effort to get to this point. They started at the premise (with corroborating data) that a digital customer brings in twice the income. Stunning in a way, and couple that with (digital customer) higher loan and deposit balances, it is no wonder DBS chose to de-invest in brick and mortar strategies and throw their cards into the digital ring.

Since 2017, Bank of America has also been moving in line with DBS and notably integrated its now widely used peer-to-peer payment feature, Zelle, which allows users to send and receive payments at astronomically low prices. They also launched 8,500+ contactless ATMs, where card holders can engage in transactions using mobile wallet options (Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, etc.). HSBC has not been far behind, capitalizing on their highly popular virtual assistant, “Ask Amy.” A chatbot, Amy is able to provide timely information 24/7, on nearly any inquiry. An embedded customer feedback mechanism allows for the bot to keep learning and enriching her knowledge, which grows by the day.

With this said, DBS is still ahead of its competitors, with a market cap that was up 44 percent for 2017, and the bank is now considered more “tech” than a traditional banking sector investment. That’s a real sign of success!

Sustainable Finance

A new category (over the past decade), sustainable finance, as defined by Frankfurt Main Finance, “integrates environmental, social or governance criteria into financial services.” Under a responsible sustainable finance model, capital expenditure and investment decisions take the previously mentioned criteria in mind before acting. Last year, the lauded finance publication, Euromoney, awarded BNP Paribas with the “World’s Best Bank for Sustainable Finance” award, besting more than 1,500 contenders and being decided upon after nearly 100 interviews with leading bank CEOs worldwide.

A handful of years ago, BNP Paribas CEO, Jean-Laurent Bonnafe aligned the bank’s strategies with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Roughly 135 billion euros have been devoted to energy transition and reaching said goals, and BNP Paribas is now part of the “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” that lends its support to the active promotion and advancement of clean-energy solutions.

Another notable global bank player in this sphere is Nordea, a Nordic financial services group based out of Helsinki, Finland. With total equity of approximately 32.4 billion euros, the bank has capitalized on its multi-cultural history (formed via mergers and acquisitions of Finish, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish banks) to now compete head-to-head on sustainability issues with the likes of BNP Paribas. Strong performance results generated from clean financing activities (green bonds, green loans, etc.) have propelled Nordea to now begin to offer green mortgages.   

Diversity and Inclusion

Brian Moynihan has been rightly lauded as an exceptional CEO, but his work with diversity (which began 10 years ago when he became chair of the Bank of America Global Diversity & Inclusion Council) is where many feel he really made his mark. The company’s diversity numbers are on an upward trajectory where roughly 40 percent of the global management team and 30 percent of board directors are women. At a workforce level, there are more women now than men working at the bank. 

A key issue with Bank of America executives was retaining women during motherhood, and the London office most notably includes a maternity room that new mothers can access while on the job. Small changes like this transform the bank from talking inclusion to “doing” inclusion.

In Mexico, Scotiabank has been recognized by its peers as adopting one of the most progressive LGBT laws in the world. The bank services and employs a disproportionate number of LGBT customers and employees and is re-writing employment law from a policy and internal procedure perspective.

It is exceptional to witness the growth in these areas, digital banking and diversity and inclusion especially. Watch for global banking leaders to continue to emerge from unlikely places and for the industry to become much more diversified. This will be a win-win for customers worldwide.      


Business takes us to people and places that were previously unimaginable. Perhaps some were imaginable–trips to London, New York, Tokyo or Berlin. But Dubai, Sydney, Kuala Lumper or Lima? As a business traveler, the world is your client and airports do a fabulous job not only facilitating your comings and goings, but also offering premier options to relax, eat, work or a combination of all three.

Airport business lounges have rapidly evolved over the years. Initially offering simply a seat with an internet connection and perhaps a glass of wine and shrimp cocktail, lounges are now mini-hotels, replete with executive chefs, showers and buffets with more options than you could possibly desire and unparalleled ambiance.

Gaining access to an airport lounge can come in a variety of ways. If you are traveling in business or first class, you will typically receive free access to most lounges. If you’re in economy, you will likely need to pay. Either way, the plethora of lounges these days is extensive, but we’re going to dive into some of the best.

In no particular order, first up is the Plaza Premium Lounge, Terminal 2, at Rio de Janeiro Galeao International Airport. At a very affordable $32.72 per passenger, this lounge ranked an impressive 5 out of 5 from Private relaxation rooms, showers, an ambiance that is nearly spa-esque but professional enough to get some work done, the Plaza Premium Lounge is a must access when flying through Rio. Made-to-order sandwiches get rave reviews online, as do the chocolate smoothies.

The 1903 Lounge, Terminal 3 at Manchester Airport is an “adults only” lounge, so if you’re towing along your 5-year-old to experience Manchester while you’re at work, you’ll need to pass on this option. At a buffet offering fit for none other than a king, you can expect nothing short of spectacular from the English with 1833 vintage reserve cheddar and real dairy ice cream from Cheshire Farm. The drinks menu will make you dizzy, but in a good way.

Another lounge that will keep the head spinning is Lounge @ B, Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport. For $38.67 a pop, you can plop into a massage chair that rivals a real masseuse and also putting you in a relaxed mood are an array of pastries, Champagne and amazing customer service that rivals any lounge’s on the planet.

Ever had a craving for lamb pie? Or perhaps rice pudding? According to several users on Yelp, the Strata Lounge, International Terminal at Auckland Airport boasts perhaps the best lamb pies and rice pudding on the planet! This is a business lounge, through and through, but the food is where it truly stands out. Sleek, sliding glass doors and a range of New Zealand wine and beers will keep you satiated, but perhaps not in tip-top shape to work on that investor presentation.

While the lounges themselves are fabulous, a post on the best airport business lounges would need be complete without a mention to the credit cards that can gain you access to said lounges.   

The Platinum Card from American Express

Before jumping into the card offers here, we should touch on Centurion Lounges, which can be found worldwide in the most premier, often-traveled airports, including San Francisco, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Houston, Miami, New York, Mumbai, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Dallas and Buenos Aires. Each location features a healthy square footage and an even healthier offerings of food, drink and amenities. In Dallas, for example, spa treatments await as does a menu designed by Dean Fearing, a James Beard Award-winning chef. Need a shower after a long flight? Hit San Francisco, shower to your heart’s content, and then ramble on over to their wine tasting station.

We could keep detailing city by city but the point here is the Platinum Card from American Express gives you access to Centurion Lounges. This card will also gain you access into Delta Sky Clubs if you’re flying that airline.

Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

A bit of a mouthful, this advantageous card from Mastercard brings with it Admirals Club membership coupled with access for immediate family members or two guests traveling with you. Admirals Club is a network of lounges operated by American Airlines. Originally started in 1936 to provide perks to loyal airline passengers, members of the club were referred to as admirals and greeted as such.

While you’ll likely be traveling with other adults while on business, having this membership is an added perk when you find yourself on vacation with the kiddies. The lounge has a great space for kids to unwind and play, which is music to any parent’s ears.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

This card is Delta-specific as the name suggests. You will receive access when flying Delta to its Sky Clubs, but a knock on this card is it previously allowed for complimentary guest access, which is now been rescinded.

As a card holder, you will also receive a free checked bag, 20 percent inflight savings as well as priority boarding. With the business version of this card, you are privy to some interesting perks that make that annual fee much more palatable.

Business lounges are in most major airports and if taken advantage of intelligently, they will allow the savvy traveler to rest up, eat up and even get some work done in between massages. Happy traveling and see you at the lounge!