bonus

Once upon a time, Roman gladiators fought against one another in massive arenas surrounded by the deafening cries of thousands of blood-thirsty spectators who craved to see no less than blood carpet the ground, gouged eyes brandished like a cowboy’s lasso and decapitated heads affixed to the sharp end of swords like skewered kebabs.

One would need to momentarily turn a blind eye to the fierce brutality of what was once upon a time considered a magnificent sport, if they would like to perceive the noble elements of the game. Just as the crowds used to, long ago. For in their hearts, the audience longed for more than just the sight of blood. With determined eyes, they religiously followed each swing of the mighty sword as it cut through the air toward their opponent’s body. With each breath they impatiently waited to witness the manifestation of ideals and virtues that long confirmed the elegance of the sport.

Rapture

The crowd held strong admiration for those who fought valiantly and displayed great courage.

When a gladiator put on a good show and revealed integrity, he or she was showered with gifts, honours, sexual partners and even freedom. In other words, the gladiator received a bonus.

Though those days have long gone, except in the imagination of a few poor yet ambitious Hollywood scriptwriters aspiring to bring to life the next great Ancient Roman blockbuster, some practices remain.

Just as many forms of punishment once open to the public moved behind closed doors, so too have some of today’s gladiator games. In particular those that involve financial combatants. Though they are out of sight, they persist within the halls of global investment banks.

Origins and the present

Gladiators usually came from one of two places. They were captured soldiers who had fought and lost against Rome. Or they were slaves. Through their status as gladiators they would have the opportunity to redeem themselves and potentially attain freedom. Perhaps even fame.  [READ MORE…]

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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 it meant to them you’d probably get a response along the lines of the following:

“Something extra that’s 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 long, painful 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

From my years in banking I’ve come to know a large number 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 straightforward four-word question? Let me emphasise, 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.

One of the underlying reasons was that only they, that special breed of financiers, felt the overwhelming surge of emotions which came from this highly charged word. They are alone in that respect. [READ MORE…]

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Near-Banker-Death Experience

Let’s be honest here, the greatest joy in banking is a huge bonus. But money alone won’t bring happiness. Honours and titles also matter. One of the greatest honours which can be bestowed upon an ibanker is a standing ovation.

Standing ovations usually happen for one of two reasons: a massive deal is closed and the bank makes an extraordinary amount of revenues; someone collapses or faints from exhaustion and / or excessive stress during a deal. The latter is what we call a near-banker-death experience.

Two paths to glory

An example of the first scenario was when we extracted over USD50m in fees on one deal alone from a massive Middle East client. The head of Investment Banking practically moonwalked over to our desk and shook everyone’s hands. He then asked everyone around to stand up and clap. This sort of event is the more common of the two.

The second scenario is what leaves the strongest impression on all bankers as it touched on human limits. I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed it. I was less than one month into the job. [READ MORE…]

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It was the happiest of times, it was the saddest of times, it was a period of excess, it was an age of poverty. It was bonus time.

You never forget your first bonus. I had been with the bank roughly 6 months before mine was handed to me.

From the moment I first set foot in the building and took my seat, I felt its very presence all around me, like that of sinister portrait painting in old Dracula films. Never to be spoken about openly but constantly on everybody’s mind.

The ‘bonus’.  Always there.  Always reminding you of its presence.  Aaah.

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