Christmas parties in financial services aren't what they were. Long ago, banks shamelessly spent huge amounts of money indulging staff. Then came the financial crisis. Goldman Sachs cancelled its firm-wide Christmas event circa 2009 and spending big money on parties became a source of public opprobrium. In 2012, RBS let it be known that it was limiting its party budget to a modest £10 ($15) per head.
Things are no longer that bad, but as you imbibe the free alcohol and graze on the complimentary canapés at your 'work event', it's worth remembering what things used to be like. Based upon word-of-mouth from those who were there and press reports from the time, these are the parties you missed...
In 2000 the first technology boom was in full swing and the financial services industry was thriving on technology IPOs. Bloomberg reportedly spent £1m ($1.5m) 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. Attendees said there was also a 'lust room' with a 25-foot-wide bed covered in purple satin.
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.
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.
This alleged party appears to have become an urban myth. Ex-equities analyst and writer Geraint Anderson claims that Goldman's 2004 Christmas party involved a fight between a Goldman banker dressed as a chav and a Goldman banker dressed as a dalmation.' When we asked the bank about it several years ago, the bank 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."
In 2001, RBS was in growth mode. Its leveraged finance group threw a Brazilian-themed Christmas party in the Oxo Tower. There, it was said that John Hourican, who later became CEO of the investment bank, astounded everyone with his excellent Samba dancing in the company of two Brazilian dancers, Solange and Danda.
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 publicly announced that it was stopping Christmas parties.
Inexplicably, London-based 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.
In 2007, UBS was said to have held a lavish Christmas party for its US wealth managers at the American Museum of Natural History. 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.
In 2006, Dresdner was still an investment bank. Its Christmas party 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.
We can't talk for the Christmas parties thrown by Blackstone founder Steve Schwarzman now, but in the past they've been pretty wild. Journalist Kevin Roose penetrated Schwarzman's 2010 holiday party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010 and found 'mini salted-caramel ice cream cones' amid priceless Egyptian relics. However, this sounded tame to the New York Times' reports of earlier parties thrown at Schwarzman's home: on one occasion Schwarzman reportedly transformed his house into a beach in St. Tropez, on another he replicated a Las Vegas casino. In 2007 he dressed up as James Bond and had Bond girls circulating among the guests.
New Star's 2006 Christmas party is notorious for the wrong reason. The party at the fund management firm, which acquired by Henderson in 2009, was held in a Regency house in London's Knightsbridge. A staff member reportedly fell from the upper floor. Miraculously, she survived, but this episode provides a good argument against the sort of over-indulgence that used to be commonplace at this time of year.
The Merrill Lynch New Zealand Hawaiian-themed Christmas party of 2001 ended horrendously. Matthew Schofield, a 26 year-old investment banker with the firm reached under a toilet cubicle and set fire to Gareth MacFadyen, a 24 year-old colleague's synthetic grass skirt. MacFadyen tragically suffered 95% burns and died three days later.
It wasn't so much the party that was at issue here, as what allegedly happened after it ended. Around 11pm William Bryan Jennings, the bank's U.S. underwriting head hailed a cab from the party at Ink 48 on Manhattan's West Side and was driven home to Darien, Connecticut. Upon arrival, Jennings - who'd reportedly been drinking throughout the afternoon - allegedly refused to pay the fare and the cab driver alleged that Jennings pulled a knife on him. Jennings was subsequently fired from Morgan Stanley, although the criminal charges against him were dropped after his attorney pointed to "material misstatements and omissions" in the affidavit.