Does Nomura's purchase of an entire boutique say something about Nomura, or about boutiques?

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Until recently, Nomura had a few gaps to fill in its UK IBD franchise.

Last month, for example, it lost Charles Donald, its head of UK investment banking to Credit Suisse. Donald had been head of IBD at Nomura for little more than a year.

Donald was promptly replaced by Will Barter, a former Citigroup banker who only joined Nomura in June. But Barter doesn't seem to have been sufficient to fill the gap, because yesterday Nomura announced the purchase of Tricorn Partners, an entire corporate finance boutique, and its 13 employees.

Officially, Nomura's not discussing its motivation for hoovering up an independent firm. However, one insider said it was about bringing on multiple "trusted individuals" simultaneously (Tricorn's most senior people have long histories at Merrill Lynch, Lazard and Slaughter & May).

Equally, she admits it may have something to do with a certain hesitation among senior corporate financiers to come and work for Nomura: "The UK IBD franchise is a difficult one for a Japanese bank."

It's not clear how much Nomura paid for Tricorn's employees, but it may well have been in the seven figures. The most recently available results for Tricorn show that five of its employees shared an average of 1.2m in 2008.

Tricorn's willingness to be subsumed by Nomura may also say something about the state of boutiques. A partner at a rival independent firm says the market's getting crowded: "We've had very difficult markets for M&A over the past 18 months. Lots of new boutiques have been set up, but those that don't have a strong position, either competitively or in terms of cost structure, are in trouble."

Working for Nomura, Tricorn's employees will have the added advantage of being able to offer financing alongside advice. "Banks are certainly paying the financing card very strongly," says the partner at the rival boutique. "Whether clients are entirely comfortable with that is another matter."

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