Roughly half of bankers in Britain and the United States received increased bonuses for 2010, according to a survey released on Tuesday.
Not everyone in the financial sector is better off. Conversations with recruiters, senior executives, and bankers and traders indicate that for many employees of the biggest banks on Wall Street, average compensation is down.
The disparity points to a common theme for the last year: many of the best people got paid better to stay where they were, while worse performers saw bonuses plunge or disappear entirely.
Bankers' pay has come under intense scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic after a political and public backlash following the financial crisis.
Banks have moved to vary their compensation, adding different types of instruments besides cash and making some of the payouts deferred for as long as three years. That, too, has caused consternation on the receiving end.
Amid the shuffling, the average bonus at U.S. investment banks fell 5 percent last year, jobs website Efinancialcareers said.
Yet despite the falling bonuses, the firm's third annual survey said about half of bankers saw their pay go up, implying that those whose bonuses fell saw huge declines in their compensation, while many employees received slight increases in bonuses.
Are people ever happy about being paid less? They're disappointed but it doesn't mean they are being paid badly, a source said.
DIFFERENT BANK, DIFFERENT PAY
From firm to firm, the story varies greatly.
People are either just satisfied or slightly disappointed, one New York-based equity capital markets banker said.
Others reported that declines in compensation were widespread.
The good guys this year got paid well. If the top end of the market last year was $1 million to $1.5 million, this year it was $900,000 to $1.4 million, so flat or down about 5 percent -- but at the mid-range it was down 30 to 50 percent, said one New York-based headhunter who knows equity salesmen and traders.
A person familiar with the matter said compensation at Morgan Stanley's (MS.N) core investment bank fell 3 percent. The source said staff were told bonuses fell 10 percent to 25 percent on average for 2010, depending on the unit.
Morgan Stanley does not typically disclose compensation and bonus figures. The firm has said, though, that 60 percent of staff compensation for 2010 would be paid on a deferred basis of anywhere from 18 to 36 months, up from 40 percent in 2009. The deferral is larger for top executives.
At JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), total compensation at the investment bank appears to have edged lower, people familiar with the situation said.
There is less chatter circulating about compensation at Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N), though the firm's headcount rose sharply in 2010, a fact expected to disadvantage those at the lower end of the award scale.
Total compensation expense fell at Goldman even as headcount rose, leading to lower pay per employee. Compensation is thought to have varied widely at the firm, perhaps more than elsewhere, though generally it is believed to have been in line with industry trends on issues like deferred payouts.
The British government said on Tuesday it was still seeking an agreement with banks to curb bonuses and boost lending, despite reports that the talks had stalled.
The issue is sensitive because the state has large stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) after bailing them out, and big bonuses enrage taxpayers.
Banks have been fighting to maintain competitive bonus packages for staff, arguing that otherwise some banks might relocate to places where they could face less regulation.
The scrutiny on bonuses is particularly intense in Britain, where the average bonus for UK front office professionals was 84,409 pounds ($135,000) for 2010, up 5 percent from 2009, the survey found.
Efinancialcareers said on Tuesday the survey was conducted this month and was based on 2,511 respondents who had had their awards revealed to them.
The survey said 49 percent of bankers in Britain had seen a rise in bonuses for 2010 and only a quarter had seen a fall. Some key British banks have yet to present bonuses to staff.
In the United States, 56 percent of those surveyed said their bonuses were larger, while 19 percent said they were smaller.
While more U.S. bonuses rose than fell on an absolute basis, when comparing dollar amounts year over year, the average U.S. bonus fell 5 percent, according to the survey.
(Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin, Paritosh Bansal and Elinor Comlay in New York; Editing by David Holmes, John Wallace, Gary Hill)