As office Christmas party season approaches, more of the same is likely for Christmas parties at investment banks: namely sedate affairs held for small groups of bankers away from the public eye. Such has been the way of things ever since the financial crisis. However, ’twas not always so.
Before banking and opulence became socially unacceptable, bankers were very often treated to decadent parties of lavish extravagance. On Wall Street, parties in upscale clubs were common. Geraint Anderson, who catalogues banking hedonism in his novel Cityboy and formerly worked for Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says the most popular venue for such events in London was once the Honourable Artillery Company on City Road. “We’d always drink shots and pints beforehand and would arrive completely drunk and go the fairground rides,” he says.
Even the sedate Dutch bank ABN AMRO seems to have gone in for something special : “The parties were ridiculous,” says one ex-ABN banker, “there were fairground rides and a shopping centre… And then one year they cancelled the Christmas party and gave everyone £10 to spend as long as they didn’t go out in groups of more than 8.”
In 2006, one unnamed US finance firm was said to have held its London Christmas party at Madame Tussauds. Following the event, it was found that two of the waxworks had lost their heads and Jennifer Aniston was missing a finger.
David Charters, a former MD of Deutsche Bank, says he never attended the Christmas parties of the past because they were so wild: “They were company wide and something to avoid.”
We asked Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, RBS and UBS for information on their Christmas party plans this year. None were prepared to comment. Off the record, the general message for 2012 festivities is low cost and low key. Conversely, these are the 10 most notorious examples of what it used to be like, once.
1. The Bloomberg London Christmas Party 2000
In 2000, Bloomberg reportedly spent £1m on a London Christmas party based on the seven deadly sins. The event was said to include 10 bars, one of which served only truffles and sweets to denote gluttony, as well as neck-massage stations, manicure booths, a sushi bar, cabaret, casino, drag queens, and live bands. Also included was a”lust room” with a 25-foot-wide bed covered in purple satin.
2. The Deutsche Bank equities party 2001
In 2001, Robbie Williams was at the height of his fame, having already released two popular solo albums and not yet attempted to reunite with Take That. This was no barrier when it came to booking him for the Deutsche equities party at the Equinox nightclub in London, which he apparently attended with 200 fans and Geri Halliwell. The party took place in February, and may not have been solely for Christmas, but still.
Separately, at the Deutsche Bank London Christmas party in 2000, male staff were said to arrange for the attendance of escort girls. This became a contributory factor in a sex discrimination case filed against the bank later on.
3. The alleged Goldman Sachs London fancy dress party 2004
This alleged party appears to have become an urban myth. Anderson claims that Goldman’s 2004 Christmas party was notorious at the time and involved a fight between a Goldman banker dressed as a chav and a Goldman banker dressed as a dalmation.
Goldman declined to comment.
As with Deutsche, Goldman has been accused of inviting call girls to its Christmas parties in the past. At a sex discrimination tribunal in 2010, one former US employee alleged that female escorts were invited to the 2007 sales Christmas party and they turned up in, ”short black skirts, strapless tops and Santa hats.”
4. The RBS leveraged finance group Christmas party of 2001
In 2001, RBS’s leveraged finance group threw a Brazilian-themed Christmas party in the Oxo Tower. There, it was said that John Hourican, the current investment banking CEO, astounded everyone with his excellent Samba dancing in the company of two Brazilian dancers, Solange and Danda.
5. The Deutsche Bank Christmas parties of 2009
By 2009, most banks had opted to have more subdued staff parties. Deutsche Bank, however, ran an open bar for its US employees at 230 Fifth, an elite New York lounge. This was said to be followed by an after party at a nearby saloon bar at which 100 bankers allegedly engaged in ‘car-bomb races’ and some vomited on the floor.
In London that year, Deutsche held a seated dinner party followed by dancing at the Cuckoo Club – a 5,000 square foot ‘exclusive private members club’ in the west end. This all came after the 2008 watershed and after 2006, when Deutsche announced that it was stopping Christmas parties.
6. The Winterflood Securities James Bond themed party of 2010
For some reason, Winterflood Securities holds its infamous Christmas parties in April. In 1998 5,000 bottles of beer were consumed at one such event. However, we understand from attendees that one of the best Winterflood parties of recent times was the 2010 James Bond themed Christmas party at the Royal Exchange, which Brian Winterflood attended dressed as bond villain Ernst Blofeld.
7. The UBS US Christmas Party 2007
In 2007, UBS was said to have held a lavish Christmas party for its US wealth managers at the American Museum of Natural History. You can see a short video of this here, although it doesn’t look too great. By 2008, UBS had decided to devote its $100k Christmas party money to charity instead, and UBS party goers in London appeared to be restricted to sitting on plastic camels for entertainment.
8. The Dresdner Christmas Party 2006
Dresdner’s Christmas party of 2006 was held at the Royal Artillery Club in London, shortly after the firm had announced 800 redundancies. There, Stefan Jentzsch, then Dresdner CEO and now a partner at Perella Weinberg, joined the band, played the guitar, and regaled the audience with a selection of hits.
9. The Rose Partnership Christmas Party 2001
The Rose Partnership isn’t a bank, but a banking headhunter. In 2001, founder Philippa Rose was said to stand on a table at the Christmas party and sing an adapted version of ‘Money, Money, Money’, to celebrate how much money she had made from headhunting over the previous 12 months.
10. Clive Palmer’s Christmas party 2010
Mining magnate Clive Palmer doesn’t work in banking either, but it’s worth highlighting his recent Christmas party as it suggests that the best festive perks may be on offer outside banking nowadays. Two years ago, Palmer was said to give 50 Mercedes sedans to his most prized employees as Christmas presents, to take all 750 staff to Fiji and to spend $2m on a Christmas party while they were in situ.
If you know of a more notorious party, please do share it with us below.