City workers already jostling for position as another record bonus season looms

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The Independent Online

It may only be mid-September, but the City already has one eye trained firmly on Christmas.

The fixation with the festive season owes less to a spirit of goodwill to all men and more to a salivating anticipation that record bonuses will be delivered this year alongside the usual new socks and Aston Martins.

Business is booming across the Square Mile and profits chiselled out by investment banks this year are better then ever.

Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs set the tone of the quarterly reporting season with news that it had already made more in 2006 than any Wall Street rival has managed in a year.

At almost $6.4bn (£3.4bn), net earnings during the nine months to the end of August exceeded the $5.6bn Goldman made throughout 2005, itself a record year.

The bank - known in City circles as "Golden Sacks" on account of the generous remuneration its staff can expect - revealed it had earmarked $13.9bn so far this year to pay its 25,647 workers.

For those who struggle with mental arithmetic, that translates to an average package - including the trimmings of pension, life and health cover and the like - of about $542,000.

Goldman may well be the foremost fortune factory, but those toiling in the salt mines of investment banking elsewhere can also look forward to a very merry Christmas.

So too can the corporate lawyers who advise on mergers and acquisitions, and the financial buccaneers of the private equity and hedge fund communities.

Indeed, the new breed of maths geek who dominates hedge-fund trading and those leading the stampede of leveraged buyouts - the so-called Mayfair Mafia, named after the well-heeled London district where they are concentrated - typically take home markedly more than their poor relations still working in traditional investment banking.

Last year, critics queued up to condemn "obscene" bonuses after it emerged that 3,000 senior City workers each received at least £1m on top of generous basic pay. Expect a re-run, naturally dripping with righteous indignation, when December comes around.

When the average annual income for a family of four across Britain stands at £32,396 after taxes, while a typical private pension pays £1,400 a year on top of £6,000 from the state, it is easy to understand why City salaries provoke such ire.

Contrast the experience of the average Briton with that typical of an investment banker, as outlined by one leading City employment specialist.

Fresh-faced and eager, recruited through the annual milk round of the UK's better universities, the nascent investment banker joins its graduate trainee scheme on about £35,000 a year.

A junior analyst of one or two years experience at one of the bigger banks can expect a salary of about £55,000 plus a bonus of about 30 per cent, or about another £16,500.

After climbing the next rung of the ladder to "associate" level, with perhaps three to five years' experience, the salary climbs to about £80,000, plus a bonus of about 60 per cent.

Still in their twenties (albeit pushing 30), but one level higher, vice-presidents should expect total annual compensation of between £300,000 and £400,000. Three-quarters of that will be awarded in the form of a bonus.

In terms of purchasing power, think of it this way. A 28-year-old VP in corporate finance could pocket an annual bonus that could buy a fleet of 18 Ford Mondeos,three "typical" houses in Clydebank in Scotland, 176,470 pints of beer (outside London, of course), or 7,500 three-course meals for two (plus wine) at a Harvester Restaurant. (For the benefit of investment bankers, Harvester is part of Mitchells & Butlers, the pubs group that the property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz recently tried unsuccessfully to buy for £2.8bn. M&B was advised by Citigroup, Mr Tchenguiz was advised by Deutsche Bank).

Further up the investment bank ladder, executive vice-presidents or directors will be paid£500,000 to £1m. Managing directors won't work for anything less than £2m a year, and in the rarefied atmosphere of partner £3m would be de rigeur. Again, partners typically receive basic salaries of about £200,000 and are paid the lion's share of their total compensation in an annual bonus.

Within banks, there is a definite pecking order come bonus time. As might be expected, it is the bigger fee-earners who walk tallest and pocket the biggest bonuses. As a rule of thumb, corporate financiers and traders are generally better paid than analysts or non-fee earners.

Almost half of an investment bank's profits go to pay workers. A percentage of earnings is allocated to a bonus pool, then department heads carve that up among each team, usually based on the amount of revenue individuals have brought in.

A City pay negotiator explained: "It's a risk-reward philosophy. The numbers may be huge, but you are only paid a chunk of the profits you generate for the bank. It's very much a people business. You have the national or global brand of the bank, behind which you have individuals who have built up relationships over a period of years, which they then leverage to generate profits for the bank."

Investment banks reward workers on the basis of total compensation. Basic pay, though enormous to those outside the City, is actually relatively small. The more senior a banker becomes, the greater the merit-based element of his (or her) remuneration.

Ian Brown, the editor in chief of eFinancialCareers. com, the financial jobs marketplace, said: "It's a numbers game. If you are making money for your employer, it comes down to a simple percentage figure."

Should a bank fail to meet the exacting expectations of its staff, it is likely to find empty seats the result after workers defect to a rival, as Dresdner Kleinwort found to its cost over the summer.

The ramifications of such a ferocious concentration of wealth are most readily identifiable in the inflated house prices endemic in areas favoured by the City.

Figures from Halifax, the country's biggest mortgage lender, show the price of a home in London has jumped by 217 per cent in the past decade. A house in London now typically costs £265,011. The story is the same across the South-east. By contrast, the average house price for the UK is £177,962 or less than £100,000 in parts of Scotland and the North.

However, before rushing to condemn Britain's bankers and their co-workers in the City, critics would do well to bear in mind the pivotal role they play in UK plc. The City now accounts for almost a third of the total UK economy.

Along with the arms industry, finance is one of a very few in which Britain can rightly still claim to be among the best in the world.

As for the bankers themselves, they make no secret of what drives them to work the kind of hours usually the preserve of doctors and long-distance lorry drivers.

"Bankers are in it for the money," Mr Brown said. "That's the prime motivating factor. Are they worth it? You have to ask shareholders. If you want to get into ethical debates about wealth inequality - the haves and the have nots - you are opening a can of worms. You won't get many in the City biting. They are too busy making money."