EDITOR'S TAKE: Investment bankers are still selfish beasts

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This may come as a terrible shock to anyone at Bank of America this week, but it will be no great surprise to people at Nomura: investment bankers are mostly interested in maximizing short term personal gain.

Bankers at Nomura had this amply illustrated back in October when they kindly extended a welcoming hand to the destitute souls of Lehman's equities team. In return, senior Lehman bankers negotiated inflated two year packages, beyond not only Nomura-Man's wild and craziest dreams, but which left the incomers relatively immune to subsequent layoffs when they came.

It now looks like history is repeating itself, if not precisely, at Bank of America.

Despite making a loss of $27bn in 2008, the Financial Times today reports that Merrill Lynch may have paid $3-4bn in bonuses for the year.

Merrill's total compensation expenditure for the past 12 months, salaries included, was $15bn, a reduction of only 6% on 2007. Given that headcount fell nearly 9% over the same period, average comp at Merrill Lynch actually rose, to $256k - a first for any bank, let alone one which was barely solvent.

It's little surprise, therefore, that Merrill appears to have been keen to pay its people before BofA got hold of them: bonus payouts were apparently brought forward from late January to December 29th.

At Bank of America, meanwhile, bonuses are announced this week, and following the horror of Merrill's fourth quarter loss they're likely to be dire. Moreover, with Merrill's Montag now running the combined capital markets operation, BofA bankers look set to come off worst from the 4,000 imminent redundancies at the combined investment bank.

If Merrill and Lehman bankers don't exactly appear contrite, that may be because they're not. And if they don't appear overly concerned about endearing themselves to their new owners, that may also be because they're not either.

Herein lies the cultural problem at the heart of what have now been proven as unsuccessful investment banks: emphasis on short term individual reward with little consideration for its longer term implications.

It would be nice to think that those who made the biggest mistakes over the past few years have taken this onboard. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they have.

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