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Lehman Formula


The Lehman Formula is a compensation structure traditionally used in the investment banking sector to determine the commission on big financial transactions. It uses a sliding scale, starting with a 5% commission for the first million dollars of the transaction, then decreasing gradually to smaller percentages for larger amounts. This formula was first used by Lehman Brothers, hence its name.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Lehman Formula” is: lee-muhn fawr-myuh-luh

Key Takeaways

  1. The Lehman Formula, often used in investment banking, calculates the advisory fees paid to the investment banks for the services provided. It’s traditionally used for mergers and acquisitions, privatizations, and capital raising transactions.
  2. The formula was originally proposed by Lehman Brothers, with a sliding scale fee structure. The structure typically involves a 5% fee for the first million dollars involved in the transaction, 4% for the second million, 3% for the third million, 2% for the fourth million, and 1% for every amount over that.
  3. While its use has declined over time due to modifications and alternatives, the Lehman Formula still serves as a benchmark. It is particularly effective in preventing conflicts of interest by linking the advisor’s compensation directly to the value received by the client in the transaction.


The Lehman Formula is significant in business and finance as it serves as a traditional compensation method used in investment banking to determine the commission for underwriting or brokering major financial transactions or mergers and acquisitions. Named after the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, it consists of a sliding scale calculator for larger transactions where the percentage of commission decreases as the size of the deal increases. This method serves as a model for ensuring fairness and balance in large-scale mergers and acquisitions, thereby maintaining the dynamism and integrity of the market. Its use demonstrates the extensive behind-the-scenes work and value investment bankers add in completing complex multi-million or billion-dollar deals.


The Lehman Formula serves a significant purpose in the field of finance and business as a traditional compensation method for investment banking services, specifically in the context of mergers and acquisitions. Its use stems from the aim to establish a reasonable compensation structure for substantial financial transactions which creates a direct correlation between the scale of the transaction and the banking service fee. The fundamental principle that underpins the formula is that as the magnitude of the deal escalates, the commission or fee as a percentage of the transaction should decrease.

The Lehman Formula was traditionally used to determine the remuneration of investment banks facilitating the sale or merger of companies, reflecting the effort, risk, and professional expertise involved in securing large-scale financial deals. It is a tiered commission structure that scales down as the transaction value increases. This means, the larger the transaction, the lower the percentage fee, but the overall absolute fee amount will be higher. While the original Lehman formula has been modified over time to adjust to the changes in market conditions, it continues to serve as a basis for negotiable transaction-based compensation structures in investment banking.


The Lehman Formula is a compensation formula initially developed by the Lehman brothers in the 1960s for investment banking services. It’s typically used to determine the commission payable to an investment bank for successful deals. Here are three real-world examples of the Lehman Formula use:

1. Mergers and Acquisitions: Suppose ABC Corporation wants to acquire DEF Inc and they hire an investment bank to facilitate the deal. The total deal costs $500 million which is successfully sealed. Using the Lehman Formula, the investment bank could charge: 5% on the first $1 million, 4% on the next $1 million, 3% on the next $1 million, 2% on the next $1 million and 1% on the remainder. So, the total fee from this deal based on the Lehman Formula would be sizable.

2. Venture Capital: Suppose a startup successfully secures a series A funding of $10 million facilitated by an investment banking firm. For their services, using the Lehman Formula (the percentages would be cumulative based on the formula’s scale), the investment bank will receive a certain percentage of the $10 million as their commission.

3. Sale of Business: If a business owner wants to sell their firm to a larger corporation and hires an investment bank to handle the negotiations and paperwork. The business is sold for $200 million. Based on the Lehman Formula, the bank earns commission on a sliding scale, getting a higher percentage of the first million and progressively lower percentages of the following millions.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Lehman Formula?

The Lehman Formula is a compensation formula initially developed by Lehman Brothers to determine the commission on investment banking or other business brokering services. It is commonly used in the sale of businesses.

How does the Lehman Formula work?

Under the Lehman Formula, compensation is calculated based on a sliding scale. The formula suggests a commission of 5% of the first million dollars involved in the transaction, 4% of the second million, 3% of the third million, 2% of the fourth million and 1% of everything thereafter.

Is the Lehman Formula still used today?

Yes, despite its age, the Lehman Formula or modifications of it is still used as a basis for fees in a wide variety of small and midsize deals.

Can the Lehman Formula be negotiated?

Almost always. It serves as a starting point for negotiations. Quite often, depending on the complexity of the transaction, the size of the deal, and the likely time required, investment banks are open to negotiating the commission structure.

What types of transactions use the Lehman Formula?

The Lehman Formula, or variations of it, is commonly used in the negotiation of financial transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, private equity transactions, and investment banking deals.

Why is the Lehman Formula criticized?

Critics argue that the Lehman Formula doesn’t properly compensate for smaller deals and suggests an excessive commission for larger deals. It has also been criticized for not considering the complexity or difficulty of the transaction in question.

Are there alternative formulas to the Lehman Formula?

Yes, other formulas have been created to challenge or improve upon the Lehman Formula. One common example is the Double Lehman, which doubles the percentages used in the original Lehman Formula.

Related Finance Terms

  • Investment Banking: The sector where the Lehman Formula originated, it refers to a type of banking related to the creation of capital for other companies, governments, or other entities.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A): These involve the buying, selling, dividing, and combining of entities, processes where Lehman formula is generally used to determine the fees for investment bankers.
  • Underwriting: Often part of investment banking, it refers to the process where a large financial service provider (bank, insurer, investment house) takes on the risk for a fee, which can be calculated using the Lehman formula.
  • Financial Advisory: This includes consulting services provided to corporates on financial matters like mergers, acquisitions, IPOs etc. The fee structure for these services can be based on the Lehman Formula.
  • Double Lehman Formula: This is a variant of the original Lehman Formula, with a sliding scale fee that doubles at each cut-off point.

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