Bonus Talk

The London Paper  –  18 Sept 2006

In posh bars across the City bonus talk, every Cityboy’s favourite topic, has started real early this year. I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the financial media that over the last couple of weeks has done nothing but exclaim that this year will be the ‘BIGGEST-EVER BONUS BONANZA’ and talks about £21bn being handed out. Ferrari dealers and estate agents across the capital are apparently rubbing their hands with glee whilst Peter Stringfellow can hardly contain his excitement. Of course, these headlines are music to any Cityboys’ ears. Firstly, it ensures that all our mates who don’t work in the City are even more jealous of our financial success. Secondly, it raises our expectations and, most importantly, our bosses know that.

When ‘b-day’ approaches (anytime between November and March depending on the bank) there is a notable change in the work-place atmosphere. Any experienced broker knows that kissing the right bottom at the right time could add perhaps £30 to £50K to your bonus. The more Machiavellian amongst us might even subtly bad mouth our colleagues’ recent performance knowing that their loss could be our gain. Ethics, already on the critical list in the City anyway, are often known to flat-line completely such is the amount that one is playing for.

On b-day itself everyone is sweating like a ginger kid at an orphanage but pretending they’re as cool as the Fonz after he’s completed his transcendental meditation course. Of course, when its your turn to be called to the little room and receive ‘The letter’ from the boss there is only one acceptable response – total disappointment regardless of the reward. In early 2000, at the height of the internet bubble, I witnessed 24 year old telecom analysts storming out of their meeting with looks of utter disgust on their face at the injustice of having received a bonus in excess of half million pounds. We all know that the firm will pay us as little as they can get away with and so suggesting contentment is a mug’s game.

Unfortunately, for all of us successful Cityboys discussing the size of the bonus you’ve received with your colleagues is a complete no-no. This is a crying shame for those who’ve just received the kind of cash that would embarrass an African dictator and would, if we could, advertise this fact in neon in Piccadilly Circus. Hence, we have developed subtle and not so subtle means of informing our colleagues just how brilliantly we’ve done. Buying a few bottles of champagne in the pub on B-day might be considered understated compared to a well-timed discussion with colleagues of the merits of the supercar, the Maybach 62 – a snip at around £250K.

But the real reason why we want our colleagues to know of our financial success is because some of the more deluded amongst us truly believe in the accuracy of the free market’s ability to value a product. Hence, they see the bonus as a genuine reflection of their ability and ultimately base their self-confidence on this rather loose foundation. This is, of course, utter nonsense since luck, office politics and general market movements have a much bigger influence on pay in any large impersonal investment bank. But so long as the City’s raison d’etre is all about cash, and it always will be, what other means do the sadder individuals amongst us have to assess our self-worth?

Thoughts ?

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