"JPMorgan people are happy, Goldman are good, Morgan Stanley are moody, Citi are sad"
Bank of America is still to make its move, but most other big US banks (Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley) have now announced their bonuses. As ever, the results appear to be...mixed.
On the whole, this has not been a pretty bonus round. "People are more disappointed than expected," says Mike Karp at search firm Options Group. "It's been very ugly," says one senior investment banking headhunter in London. "The optimism late last year that things were improving and people might be paid ok hasn't come through," ponders a credit-focused headhunter in Europe.
Every bonus round is variegated, but this year's appears to be more motley than ever. There are differences between banks and there are differences within banks. Industry-wide generalizations are hard to come by. "US banks are all over the place," says one capital markets headhunter. "They all have different areas of focus and have differentiated heavily between businesses, and bonuses reflect that."
However, a hierarchy of happiness is discernible, starting with JPMorgan and ending with Citi. One fixed income headhunter summarizes the recent round as follows: "People at JPMorgan are happy; people at Goldman Sachs are feeling like it's been a hard year and they're lucky to have their jobs; people at Morgan Stanley are moody; people at Citi are feeling insecure and have seen a big drop in compensation." As Citi cuts costs, it's people there who are most willing to move, he says.
JPMorgan increased compensation spending in its corporate and investment bank by 9% in the fourth quarter, and multiple headhunters agree that people there are happiest of all. "JPMorgan is a steadier institution and so their bonuses vary less," says the M&A headhunter. "JPMorgan managed to pay people pretty consistently across the board," says another.
At Goldman, expectations were high after disappointing bonuses last year. The firm seems to have trodden the difficult path of failing to match them while keeping people generally content. "Goldman bonuses are flat in many areas," says the fixed income headhunter. "At Goldman, you're doing very well if your flat," says the investment banking headhunter; the firm directed money away from senior staff towards associates and VPs, he adds.
Financial News reported early on that Morgan Stanley's investment banking bonuses were down 10-15%. One London banking headhunter says MDs there were down 10%, although another M&A headhunter tells us he's encountered Morgan Stanley MDs who were down 40% and whose bonuses were "brutal." Some of Morgan Stanley's FX traders were reportedly zeroed. "People at Morgan Stanley were mostly disappointed," says another headhunter, adding that markets bonuses were flat at very best.
It's at Citi, though, that the woe is weighing heaviest. Even as the bank announced bonuses last week, managing directors there were being cut. Headhunters describe the situation there as "very weak" with cuts of 30% or more in areas of fixed income. And yet, it's not universally bad: some people are up 10%. One young Citi banker told us he'd been pleasantly surprised: "My bonus wasn't great, but given the environment, it wasn't that bad either."
The best paying bank may yet to turn out to be BofA. It's due to announce in the next few days, and things look promising. "Bank of America are going to be pay very well for last year," says one markets headhunter. Markets revenues at the bank hit a record in 2023.
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