Bonus: It’s Much More Than Just A Word


Written by: Topics: The Business

More Than Just A Word

The word bonus can mean different things to different people. If you were to randomly stop someone in the street and ask them what the word means to them you’d probably get a response along the lines of the following:

“Hmmm…something extra that’s nice. Real nice.”

“An amount or sum given in addition to what I expected.”

“An additional prize, award or bit of cash. Expected or unexpected.”

Fair enough. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a bonus. But we’re not interested in generic, blanket definitions. We’re talking finance here. More importantly, the investment banking side of finance. To an ibanker, therefore, those above-mentioned answers are dishearteningly superficial. They are the words of one who knows nothing about the great journey of the ibanker. Alas, living a world that very few understand is part of the ibanker’s burden in his quest for glory and riches.

The most powerful things are difficult to define

In my years in banking I’ve come to know myriad ibankers. Women and men from different countries of the world, emerging and developed alike. From children of European banking dynasties and Chinese real estate magnates to first-in-the-family-with-a-university-degree Americans, Indians and Norwegians with boundless ambition and energy. Thin, tall, fat, short, I saw them in all shades and colors. And despite their personal idiosyncrasies and individual backgrounds none could ever give you a straight answer if you asked them ‘what is a bonus’?

How could some of the sharpest minds on earth stall when asked a simple 4-worded question? Remember, they included former debate club leaders, chess masters, straight A students (since birth), mental calculators, standardized test aces and even members of rhetorical societies. It didn’t matter. The question would arrest them. The reason is only they, that special breed of financiers, feel the overwhelming surge of emotions from this highly charged word. They are alone in that respect.

Just a day?

One thing was certain, on bonus day it didn’t matter where you came from or who you had slept with the night before. It didn’t matter if you had a receding hairline like Jude Law or a full set of hair like Brad Pitt. If you were the type of person who enjoyed flirty Persian dancing or simply sitting home to watch another Salman Khan action film. Whether you pursed your lips when someone took a photo of you or looked at ease. On bonus day everyone was one thing and one thing only. An ibanker facing the day or reckoning. The rest was irrelevant.

To the outsider the bonus is perhaps but an envelope which contains a large number detailing how much money the recipient ibanker will receive in his bank account in several days. That isn’t entirely wrong yet that would be like focusing on the color of the ballot the cardinals use to vote on the next Pope rather than seeing what the process truly signifies for the church, the Christian world and all of its followers.

The bonus is the grand finale in the great theatre play of investment banking. Every thing which has made up the preceding, tumultuous year can really be defined when set against the contents of that fine, oh very fine, envelope. Speaking of that envelope…you don’t just open it. You first smell it, very slowly, allowing the olfactory sense to take you all the way back to what used to be that fine tall tree situated in a breathtaking forest in Norway where the paper can trace back its humble roots. Only then does the ritual continue.

It is not uncommon for an ibanker’s eyes to well up after you ask them what a bonus means to them. The very word can elicit forgotten emotions which date as far back as that moment he or she emerged from the womb many years ago.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sanchit Sethi March 13, 2013 at 3:29 am

Really the deeper truth……
Keep writing ;-)


ParkAvenue_equities March 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

I remember my first “envelope”….it was pretty surreal. Pulling out a letter which read the amount of $ you’re to receive which was higher than a year’s salary I was making just a couple years earlier. It was a great day, to say the least.


JRII March 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

It’s what keeps you glued to your desk for a few more months, enduring the pain. And by the time you get it, you’re already a few months into the new year so you tell yourself to hold off for the next one, and so on and so forth. Next thing you know you’re 50.


The ibanker March 15, 2013 at 2:45 am

That’s very true. The carrot is always within reach.


Maximus March 15, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I wondered what the hell was I doing working for some shit “big 5″ consulting shop working the same hours for a fraction of the pay. People talk about the crazy banking hours. I worked the same hours in consulting. My friends in advertising or even Capitol Hill work the same if not more…without the “bonus”. If you’re going to slave, get paid for it.


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