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Bonuses: It’s Never as Good As The First Time

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It’s never as good as the first time. I’m talking bonuses here—get your head out of the gutter and into the Street. Too big or too small, Wall Street workers are getting paid billions of dollars in bonuses. And while first time bonuses are not the biggest, they are often the most meaningful and memorable.

Right out of college, one trader told me he got a $10,000 signing bonus from JPMorgan and promptly headed off to Chicago to try his hand trading cattle futures. $10k turned into $40k and then, down to about $7k. Humbled, he decided not to become a local and headed back to the bank. After that, all his bonuses went under the mattress.

Another trader says she bought furniture for her empty studio where she had been living with nothing but a bed for 4 months—eating pizza on the floor until she finally got a few thousand dollars and literally went downtown to Jensen Lewis and bought a table and couch.

And while my first bonus was a lousy 2-weeks pay at the now defunct “Long Term Credit Bank of Japan”, it was still a bonus—I ran off and bought the double CD set of “Les Miserables”—then paid my rent.

A new survey out today from eFinancialcareers.com says the “pay-for-performance nature of Wall Street is intact”—even though the average Wall Street bonus dropped 5 percent year over year. And for those making “average” bonus numbers on Wall Street—somewhere around $430,000 at Goldman Sachs according to some reports—that’s a meaningful number. But, ask anyone in line for a year-end bonus on Wall Street what they got that first time and watch their eyes glisten.

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