Why UBS MDs can't survive on their $1m cash bonus

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The Financial Times says some senior UBS bankers are feeling, 'financially strained.'

This is because, under pressure from the Swiss regulator, the cash component of their bonus last year was restricted to $1m, with everything else paid in deferred instruments.

This year, UBS wants FINMA to repeal its $1m rule. It wants the freedom to pay more.

But how come UBS London bankers can't cope on $1m anyway - particularly given that UBS is thought to have increased their salaries to around 300k?

We have been here before.

If you happen to be a flamboyant spender with several offspring at public schools, a large mortgage on a house in London, a mid-sized mortgage on a house in the country, a lavish holiday habit, and a spouse who expects to shop, 315k (which is what you'll end up with from $1m after tax), doesn't go very far.

The difficulties faced by UBS bankers will have been compounded by the fact that the bank really didn't pay much in 2007 and 2008. Not only were cash bonuses limited last year, but there have been no previous deferrals to soften the blow.

The reality, however, is that 315k, plus 166k in net salary, is clearly enough to live on very comfortably. What matters, as we've mentioned before, is relative income, and the standard of living to which you've become accustomed.

US academic and writer Robert Reich makes this point in his new book, Aftershock.

"Gains and losses aren't symmetrical because whatever we possess sets a minimum standard for how we judge our wellbeing thereafter," Reich writes.


"Social psychologists have long understood that people measure their own well-being by comparison to how others are doing".

For UBS bankers to cope on their $1m bonuses, two things are therefore necessary. 1) They must forget that they ever had more than this. 2) They must ignore the fact that Goldman bankers' payouts were capped at 1m and that they recently got a top-up.

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