Nothing can kill the Wall Street bonus

Christmas came early on Wall Street.
Christmas came early on Wall Street.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Wall Street bonuses are back—even if profits aren’t.

The average bonus paid to New York bankers, brokers, traders and others in the securities industry increased by 2% in 2014, to $172,860, according to new data from the Office of the New York Comptroller. That’s on top of a 19% jump the year before. The bonus bumps show that even market crises, harsh regulation, and blockbuster lawsuits can’t tamp down the annual rite of Wall Street pay.

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The average bonus last year came within a few thousand dollars—in other words, a bottle or two of champagne—of the average yearly bonuses awarded in the years before the 2008 financial meltdown. But New York’s financial institutions aren’t nearly as profitable as they were before the crash. Profits have been hampered by a litany of crisis-era lawsuits and increased regulation, which require banks to keep more capital on hand and use less debt to amplify returns.

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Image: RBC Capital Markets

The Comptroller’s estimates include cash bonuses and compensation deferred from previous years but don’t include stock options or other forms of deferred comp, which can often make up a big part of the finance industry’s yearly pay.

“It’s nice work if you can get it,” said Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on a media conference call, noting that part of the reason the bonus increase was smaller than last year’s rise was because the pay was spread across more employees.

Marking the first gain in three years, the securities industry in New York added 2,300 jobs in 2014. Many of these new positions came in compliance and legal departments, DiNapoli said.