John Richert knew the moment Goldman Sachs was coming to town.
First, the J.P. Morgan Chase banker got a call from a recruiter in June 2017 asking if he would consider joining the rival. Then Goldman went after his entire team of nine bankers. Now, he's running into Goldman on a daily basis as the two banks compete to provide companies advice on mergers and other deals.
While high-stakes competition between the two titans isn't new, the battleground is: Richert, 46, is located in Atlanta and focuses on companies that generate $500 million to $5 billion in revenue, regional businesses that Goldman had mostly ignored.
Ever since Goldman created satellite offices last year to get closer to clients, the two banks have been going head-to-head in arenas hundreds of miles from Wall Street. It's part of a broader push for fees and bragging rights among banks as deal activity in North America surged 53 percent to a near-record $1.43 trillion this year.
Bankers who may have previously been based out of New York are now fanning out from regional hubs to seal deals in far-flung locales like Chattanooga, Tennessee, and New Albany, Ohio.
"What the world forgets is that there's a lot of small towns with a lot of really big companies that are hard to get to unless you fly around in a private jet," Richert says. "But if you can hop into a car and drive there in two hours, you're more likely to see that person and develop that relationship."
The market is getting crowded. Historically the domain of smaller investment banks like William Blair and Piper Jaffray, big banks have pumped resources into the regional advisory business as revenue growth from trading desks has proved elusive.
Apart from Goldman, Wells Fargo and Bank of America have both said they are pursuing the market. In the past year, BofA has almost doubled its regional team to more than 20 bankers, according to a spokesman. Among the top three banks in mergers, only Morgan Stanley doesn't have a publicly disclosed initiative in this market, according to a spokeswoman.