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17-Aug-2018 16:59:08

As corporate culture increasingly comes under scrutiny, the term boutique has become another word for best practice. From PR to pensions, and accountancy to asset management, to be boutique is to have a set of characteristics that fundamentally aligns a business’ interests with those of its clients.

It isn’t hard to see why the number of boutiques have grown rapidly across many service industries. Investment banking was once dominated by a handful of behemoths. Today there are almost 3,800 houses advising on M&A deals.

Boutiques launched by industry veterans – such as former Lehman Brothers, and deputy US Treasury Secretary, Roger Altman’s Evercore – regularly place among the top 20 M&A fee earners in the world. The best of them retain and continue to value their boutique credentials by exclusively offering M&A services, focusing on a particular size or sector and operating a tight ownership and management structure.

We are also seeing leading public pension funds simplifying their procurement processes, specifically to encourage hungrier, smaller firms that may lack the resources to deal with lengthy documentation. 


Being boutique is not about size. It is about flexible, high-quality, personal service. It’s about independence, agility and responsiveness to the needs of clients. This means every client, not just those with the deepest pockets.

By working with boutique businesses, clients get sector expertise and bespoke solutions. It means full access to veterans of the industry, not just using Directors to attract new business, to then pass clients onto junior staff who lack the expertise and experience that clients will have bought into.

Far more than a buzzword, a successful boutique needs to have this ethos deeply engrained in the structure and culture of a company dedicated to serving its customers. It results in a variety of benefits:


  • A bespoke approach. Boutiques treat each client on a case-by-case basis, tailoring products and services to meet their specific needs. Every client counts for a boutique, so service has to be exemplary. Far better to be a major client for a smaller firm than an afterthought for an industry giant.
  • Speed and agility. Boutiques are fast. Without the inherent bureaucracy of a large organisation, boutiques can move quickly, are responsive to change and can adapt to shifting client priorities.


  • Expertise. Clients are offered access to senior staff, from start to finish. Individuals are never bounced across departments, or offices, so contact is reliable and consistent. Additionally, boutiques live and breathe the product or service they provide. This allows them to offer a deeper level of understanding, compared to mega-firms that offer breadth.
  • Innovation. As boutiques don’t have the luxury of size to fall back on, they have to continue to innovate. The lean and agile structure of most boutique businesses enables them to respond quickly to this need. With senior leadership directly involved in day-to-day operations, key decision-makers are closer to client feedback. Simple decision-making structures mean changes that benefit the business don’t get caught up in needless bureaucracy.


  • Low overheads. Without vast infrastructure and overheads to support, boutiques can deliver good value for money. A flexible approach also means that pricing structures can be tailored to meet all budgets.

 At Sterling Data Rooms we don’t believe in an assembly-line approach to virtual data room services. Every deal is different. Our pharmaceutical clients have very different requirements to our Private Equity clients, so we are used to listening to their needs and adapting our terms of business and pricing in a sensible way.

As a boutique company, we provide a much shorter turnaround time and we are able to innovate quickly as required. This can prove critical with tight deal deadlines. Signing NDAs, contractual mark-ups, changes to terms of business – these can all get in the way of a deal getting done, but can be turned around almost immediately at Sterling as we don’t have layers and layers of bureaucracy.

Where we can innovate quickly, it means that our entire product roadmap can be based directly on feedback from our clients, and not dreamt up in the board room. The technology we are all using in our daily lives is constantly improving, and it is our mission to incorporate the best bits of that into a highly secure, user-friendly experience for our clients.

Whatever the industry, there are always those who will choose to play it safe with blue chip brands. But there is growing awareness of the advantages that a smaller, independent operation brings. If you want to feel appreciated and be treated like a priority client; if you want direct, consistent and responsive access to the very best in the business, buy boutique.


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