One of the most surprising findings of this year’s eFinancialCareers global bonus survey is the dramatic increase in the average UK bonus between 2012 and 2013.
In 2012, our survey suggested that the average banking bonus in the UK was £45k. However, in 2013 respondents suggested it was £58k. That’s an increase of 30%. Moreover, it’s an increase of 30% at a time when banks’ important fixed income businesses have been struggling and the European Union has been pressing to reduce the proportion of banking compensation that’s paid in bonuses.
So what’s going on? Firstly, we suggest that the ‘mean’ average figure is be misleading. Median bonuses in London rose by ‘only’ 25% last year, suggesting the increase in bonuses is being skewed towards a few high earners. Accordingly, headhunters point to a wide disparity in the allocation of bonuses in 2013 – while senior, high performing staff have done well, many others have done badly. “There’s been a massive amount of divergence in compensation both within institutions and groups,” says Michael Karp, managing partner of institutional search firm Options Group, “We know some banks have paid top performers double what they got last year, while others have had zero. It’s been a very divergent year.”
Secondly, even though 2013 was a bad year for fixed income bankers, it wasn’t so bad for equity sales and trading or advisory professionals. Any rise in bonuses is likely to have been disproportionately skewed towards these sectors. “The larger houses have increased their bonuses in equity research by 10-20% compared to last year,” says Zaki Ahmed, director at Financial Search Limited.
Thirdly, it’s worth noting that the 2013 bonuses measured by the eFinancialCareers survey were not actually impacted by the European Union’s legislation. This legislation, which restricts bonuses to 200% of salaries, came into effect on 1 January 2014 but will apply only to bonuses paid in early 2015. In this context, the UK’s generous bonus round looks like a last huzzah.
Sam Whitaker, a counsel in the compensation practice of law firm Shearman & Sterling says that even when the EU bonus legislation comes into force early next year, it may do little to reduce the overall level of UK bonuses: legislation only applies to so-called ‘code staff’, points out Whitaker. They are in a minority. Equally, Whitaker says many banks have increased salaries and fixed pay in preparation for the coming legislation and are therefore in a position to pay higher bonuses if they want.
Outside the UK market, the increase in bonuses was more modest in 2013. In Singapore, bonuses fell 3% last year. In Hong Kong, they rose a mere 2%. Unfortunately, a year-on-year comparison is not possible for the US market. However, according to our audience, the City of London was the place to be.
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