Bonuses for People on Wall Street? Really?

Don Tennant
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My colleague Susan Hall has posted an interview, Wall Street IT Pros Want Firms to Show Them the Money, with Constance Melrose, managing director of eFinancialCareers North America, about the site's Global Bonus Expectations Survey, and it's well worth the read. I took the opportunity to speak with Melrose as well, because I was intrigued by the discussion of "bonus season" on Wall Street. After all, the idea of giving anyone in that neighborhood a bonus in the wake of the shenanigans that thrust the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression, not to mention the sector's subsequent bailout by taxpayers, might be a tad imprudent.


Given the huge outcry about government bailout money going to bonuses for CEOs in the financial services industry, I asked Melrose if she sees any reason that taxpayers should be any less unforgiving about bailout money going to CIOs in that sector. Melrose apparently didn't want to touch that one with a 10-foot pole:

I think it behooves all of us to step back for a second and remember that the pyramid on Wall Street has a few people at the top, and lots of people who are client-facing, who provide the backbone of the firm. Technology professionals fit in all of those categories. So I would turn it around the other way, and maybe think about technology professionals and where they stand on Wall Street these days. What we've learned by talking to those technology professionals is that what's come along with more scrutiny of the financial services sector and more regulatory oversight is that that drives a greater need for technology professionals, because there's going to be more measuring, reporting, and compliance. All of that does rest on having excellent systems in place.

In any case, I found it interesting that in the survey, 42 percent of technology professionals cited compensation as the most important reason to work on Wall Street, compared to only 37 percent of financial services workers overall. Melrose explained that gap this way:

This is not based on particular data in the survey, but a truism on Wall Street is that you get paid in three ways: compensation, what you learn from the types of projects you work on and the relationships you can form internally, and especially externally. So I think there's probably some bias [in favor of factors other than compensation] if you're in more of a client-facing role; there's also a greater concentration of technology professionals in larger firms than in smaller firms. So if you're in a smaller firm with more client facing, there are more ways to get rewards, to build your franchise and your expertise. If you build your franchise based on what you know and who you know, and how you get it done, that's the foundation for continuing to do very well from a financial perspective. Tech professionals don't have as many opportunities to be client-facing and external-facing.

There was another gap I found interesting: 18 percent of tech pros on Wall Street who were expecting a bonus increase attributed the expectation to changing employers, compared to only 9 percent of Wall Street respondents overall. Melrose's explanation:

When you pull all these pieces together: low unemployment, relatively speaking, among technology professionals; the premium placed on financial services expertise; the need for firms to keep a competitive edge; and the desire of technology professionals to be rewarded based on their performance-technology professionals who have done very well and who are not getting the kinds of rewards that they think are appropriate for their performance levels, they've got opportunities to move. I also know from our knowledge about technology professionals how important it is for them to stay up in terms of skills. That probably feeds in to a sense of being willing to be a bit more mobile.

Finally, given that tech pros in financial services tend to be better compensated than their peers in other sectors-Melrose estimates that in New York the difference is in the 20 percent range-I asked her how tech pros might go about breaking into financial services. Her advice:

I think you have to start with some of the larger firms first, because there will be more positions, and it's a place where you have a better chance of getting your foot in the door and developing some expertise. Another thing you can do is approach the buy-side, for example asset managers and investment managers. They have historically been more willing and more open to taking technology professionals who don't yet have that same level of financial expertise

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Nov 22, 2010 5:09 PM Mr. Big Mr. Big  says:

Bonuses for People on Wall Street? Why not ? If there is such news saying "America does have enough talent" or "IT unemployment at 4.3% including the ones gave up working at McDonald", then any stupid thing can be  possible....


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