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The problem is….this is the worst time of the year in banking

Christmas in banking

Christmas is a horrible time in banking.

Why? It’s obvious isn’t it. The entire year comes down to one month.

Are you going to get paid a bonus equal to 1.5 times your salary? Or 2 times? Or nothing? Or, are you getting fired?

Yes, I spent seventeen years in banking and I saw plenty of people get canned in December right before bonus season. It’s not fair, but it happens all the time.

And it’s not just the money. At this time of the year, you also get issues around promotions. My worst times were always in December. In 2010 I was told that I wasn’t going to make MD. I literally went home and cried. My wife can tell you that story. I’ve seen that story repeat itself countless time, whether for VP, MD or partner promotions.

Enough about problems. If you work in finance, you’ll know them all anyway. The real questions is how to deal with them.

Firstly, you need to remember that even if you are one of the worst paid people in finance, you are super well paid by real world standards. According to PayScale the top end total compensation for a UK CEO is £280k. This is for a fifty year old who has been working for almost thirty years. Feel overpaid?

If making £200-300k isn’t enough for your lifestyle, then my advice is that you need to get off the hedonic treadmill before its too late. For most people, though, it’s not so much that they need the money as that the need what the money makes them feel about themselves.

This is called ego. And ego leads to envy and pride. When I worked in banking, my ego was definitely my biggest enemy. Any feelings I had of being underpaid all came from comparing myself to other people. I didn’t need the money to live, but my ego needed it to survive. I needed to prove that I was worth a million dollars. I needed it prove that I was better. My self-worth got tied to my bank balance, my annual comp and my title.

Big mistake.Soon my ego couldn’t handle that the other kid was getting paid 10-30% more. Rather than focusing on the fact that I was getting paid 3-4x more than I thought I’d make at age 22, I was mad cause someone else was maybe getting paid more than me. Sounds insane thinking about it, but nod your head if you have felt that way.

Thirdly, most of the time not getting promoted early is a blessing. You’d be surprised how much extra stress and expectation comes with each promotion. Usually, the reason why we want to get promoted is our pride. We want the world to see how good we are. We want to update our LinkedIn profile. Warren Buffet had something smart to say on this subject many years ago:

“Always to live your life by an inner scorecard, not an outer scorecard….would you prefer to be considered the best lover in the world and know privately that you’re the worst—or would you prefer to know privately that you’re the best lover in the world, but be considered the worst?” 

Rather than focusing on whether you got promoted or not, spend December thinking about whether you are playing the game the MD level game at VP level.- Because you have to play the game at the level-up before they give you the title.

We used to have a saying at my firm: “You have to do the job, before you get the job”. If you are acting like a VP, doing the job of a VP, then you’ll be a VP. But you only get the title if you can show you can do the job.

Trust me, you’d rather be one or two years late, rather than early. You have got all the time in the world: in the long run it really doesn’t matter.

So given all these worries, here is how to make your Christmas more enjoyable:

1. Remember that no matter what you get paid, your grandma will always think you are a rock star.

2. Most of us are lucky enough to not have any disabilities or terminal illness, that’s a bigger bonus than any money you can get paid.

3. This Christmas be thankful for all that you already have, and all that you have already achieved.

4. You don’t need someone else to pay you like a rock star, you already are paid like one.

Merry Christmas.

The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learnt on Wall Street.


Photo credit: Wall Street Christmas Tree New York City by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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