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The warped psychology of the underpaid investment banker

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Bonuses are a funny thing. While it’s mostly about the money, there’s plenty of ego riding on that check, too. Bankers are being judged through a dollar sign and a bunch of zeros that hold both literal and emotional value.

So when things go south and bonuses fall, what do bankers attribute it? And what if their bonuses rise? The answers likely won’t shock you.

Nearly half of all bankers who received larger bonuses in 2013 credited their own personal performance. Just over 20% attributed the bump in incentivized pay to better company results, with the rest pointing to job moves and structural changes, among other reasons. Fair enough.

But then let’s look on the other side of the coin. Less than 10% of those who saw their bonuses drop in 2013 put it on their own personal performance. In the U.S., just 8% of bankers who took home a smaller bonus blamed themselves. In Singapore and Australia, just 2% and 3% did.

UK bankers were the most prone to look in the mirror after seeing their bonus fall. Ten percent blamed themselves over all other factors, up from just 3% the year before. Perhaps British bankers are becoming more introspective, if only slightly.

Meanwhile, firm performance was far and away the most common reason given for personal bonus cuts. In the US and Singapore, 51% blamed firm performance, with another 9% finding their specific department culpable.

Again, UK bankers were the outliers, with only 41% blaming their firm.

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