Bankers shun sacrifice

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So goes the message from Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), and perhaps other banks as well. They are putting pressure on staff to give up their bonuses for the greater good of the firm in troubled times. In some cases employees are being told that their career will suffer if they do not give them up.

It is unclear how far such tactics will work. Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, believes they have little chance of success.

'It is the traditional split between self-interested rationality and group rationality,' he says.

'It might well be rational for the group as a whole to tear up guarantees and help the firm, but there is very little to inspire individuals to do it.

'It is quite simply easier to be a free-rider and hope that the sacrifice made by others will be enough.'

Oswald says that threats against people's careers will not help. Employees know that once the market recovers, they will be able to move on to another firm without damage to their career.

Banks would be better off bringing public pressure to bear within the firm on people who fail to co-operate, Oswald said.

Those clinging to guarantees should be named and shamed into giving them up.

One headhunter agrees that people are unlikely to surrender benefits that are in their contract. He says: 'They are not going to do anything for the greater good of the company. They are bankers, for heaven's sake.

'Most will be better off taking the guaranteed bonus and spending a few years doing nothing until markets pick up.'

But Robin Linnecar, personal coach at the City of London office of the Change Partnership, urges a degree of caution. 'It's very easy to threaten to take an employer to court for not upholding a guarantee,' he says.

'It is better not to let things get to that stage. Approach the issue rationally and look at the general situation in the market - this is not personal. Opportunities within the same firm will be available in the future, and it is better not to get blacklisted at this stage.'

Whether or not staff surrender guaranteed payments, bonuses overall will undoubtedly be lower than last year.

Some headhunters estimate that the shortfall in corporate finance will be at least 30%.

Philip Sanders, managing director of Personal Performance Consultants, which provides employee assistance telephone lines for several investment banks, says that his counsellors have recently received their first calls from bankers worried that next year's bonuses will not service existing debts.

Sanders advises callers to prioritise carefully: pay off critical debts first of all, always keep a roof over your head, if necessary be willing to trade down in the housing market.

Discreet trading down of various kinds may already be occurring. John Scarrow, manager of the City of London Porsche dealers, Tower Bridge Porsche, says belt- tightening is leading some car owners to trade in their recently purchased new models for less expensive second-hand cars.

Some anecdotal evidence points to continued high spending, however. Ed Garner, director of marketing at Corney and Barrow, which runs several City of London wine bars, says champagne sales have increased this year.

It is unclear whether this is the result of reckless optimism, excessive thirst, or the stress of lower bonuses.

Stephen Pereira, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital at London Bridge, which counsels City of London workers, says that some people have a tendency to relieve stress through excessive spending.

Gardner has a more prosaic explanation for the higher sales - a hot summer. 'The sun has an amazing effect,' he says.

Money management experts working with City of London clients say that most people are well prepared for rainy days, and even rainy years.

Tim Pethybridge, head of the executive client group at Coutts bank, says that there is a general mood of caution among financial services employees and that many people are carefully working out how they would survive a sharp fall in income.

'Senior individuals are looking at diversifying their capital base. There is growing interest in hedge funds and collective investment schemes which do not involve the individual in stock selection and so enable them to avoid compliance issues.

'Property investment is also becoming more significant,' says Pethybridge.

Prudence is advisable. Individuals leaving the Square Mile often meet with something of a shock when they discover how low the pay can be elsewhere.

An outplacement adviser says: 'Clients sometimes tell me that they want to move out of financial services and only earn 100,000 a year. I have to point out that that is the equivalent salary of a board member at a FTSE 100 company.'

Decades later, memories of big bonuses can still bring on a bout of nostalgia. Anya Harris, a money dealer in the 1980s, says: 'Spending habits are hard to break. You get used to not compromising and it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that it's no longer possible to have it all.'

Harris used the savings from her City of London career to set up as a spiritual healer in Brighton. 'I still opt for luxury goods - just fewer of them,' she says.