With the financial system in crisis and politicians of all hues calling for compensation to be capped, it's easy to miss a more prosaic reason why bonuses are unlikely to reach stratospheric levels in future: broker dealers no longer exist.
Ken Lewis underscored the point in a recent interview with Fortune magazine. "Merrill was paying typical Wall Street pay," he said. "Their staff people were making a lot more than our staff people. That won't last. We intend to pay market instead."
How much less can Merrill people expect to make now they're being absorbed into BofA? It will vary by business area, but the differential is likely to be noticeable.
"Commercial banks have tended to pay 25-30% less than investment banks," says Michael Karp, chief executive of international search firm Options Group. "That made investment banks attractive places to work, but that sort of glamour is fading now that everyone's turning into a commercial bank."
BofA isn't universally frugal - staff hired into former growth areas like leveraged finance in 2005/6 were brought in on generous packages. However, senior M&A bankers at BofA earned substantially less than their counterparts at Merrill: "If MD packages for investment banking at Merrill were $3m-$4m, at BofA they were more like $1.5m," says one headhunter.
Lewis is keen to propagate the idea bonuses aren't coming back. "The Golden Age for financial services is over," he told Fortune. "It will never be the same, not in my career. Revenues will be far harder to get in the future."