Bonus day in investment banks used to be a simple affair. Bonuses were announced on a divisional basis, and for better or for worse the whole thing was over in around 24 hours. Now it's become more convoluted, and bonuses are not the only things in play.
"Bonus day has become bonus two-days, or even longer," says the head of one fixed income search firm in London. "People are being informed according to seniority and the conversations have become a lot more complicated - it's not just about bonuses, but salaries and fixed allowances."
So far, it's the U.S. investment banks which have divulged bonuses for 2014. Goldman Sachs, Citi and JPMorgan have announced already. Bank of America is in the middle of doing so. The news is mixed.
“’Flat is the new up' in certain banks," says Stephane Rambossen, managing partner at search firm Veni Partners and a former head of European industrials ECM at Citi. "If you’re in IBD, your bonus has been cut by 5% or is flat if you’re lucky. If you’re in fixed income sales and trading it’s down around 20%."
Reports suggest that bonuses for equities professionals at Bank of America are down 10% this year. One headhunter who works with the bank says the European bonus pool was down 11% overall. "If you're a managing director in corporate finance and your bonus is flat, you're incredibly lucky," he says. "If it's down 5-10%, you can also consider yourself fortunate."
Russell Clarke, managing partner at Figree, a fixed income-focused boutique, says banks have continued to reallocate money away from senior staff. "There's been a redistribution of the bonus pool further down the corporate hierarchy. We've also seen an increase in salaries for executive directors, associate directors and vice presidents." Vice presidents at one U.S. bank are said to have had their salaries hiked from £140k-£160k to £160k-£185k as part of their bonus discussions.
In the U.S., headhunters report disgruntlement at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. "We've spoken to Goldman and JPM guys who were both very disappointed," says the CEO of one markets headhunting firm, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Morgan Stanley people seemed far happier." In Europe, however, another senior headhunter said JPM and Goldman bankers were quite happy: "They had their expectations managed. People have been telling us they were down by 5-10% and they were happy with that."
The real disappointment is likely to come at the European banks, which are due to start announcing bonuses from next week. One headhunter says cuts of 15%-30% are quite possible in European banks' fixed income businesses. This sounds harsh, but it's worth remembering that banks like Deutsche have hiked salaries substantially in the past year. Focus too heavily on bonuses, and you'll miss the bigger picture.