Loaded City staff laugh all the way to the bonus bar

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The Independent Online
LONG BEFORE the clock struck 12 at noon yesterday the champagne corks were popping across the City of London as workers celebrated Christmas bonuses of up to pounds 1m.

Oak-panelled wine bars brimmed with pin-stripe suited traders, celebrating that extra little something the corporate Santa had tucked into their back pockets. George Smith, 39, whose field of mergers and acquisitions proved a nice little earner this year, would only smile knowingly when asked whether his bonus reached six figures. "It was a reasonable year," he replied grinning.

Others proved even more coy about their success - or at least the rewards it brings. One gentleman with a ruddy face caused by years of excess boomed sarcastically: "There will be no turkey this year," to the joy of colleagues who roared with laughter before downing more vintage bubbly.

One sharp-suited blonde threw back her head in an intoxicated display of seductiveness and said: "It has been a good year. I think I will trade up to a DB7 [an Aston Martin]."

Even those who complained of a paltry "token" pounds 10,000 bonus had managed to scrape together enough for another bottle of champagne at Cow's Oyster and Shellfish Warehouse. From the degrees of elation and disappointment yesterday it was plain that there was a considerable disparity between those at the top and bottom of the ladder.

Some leading figures are reported to have cleared pounds 1m in bonuses this year while others were not so lucky.

"If you are lucky enough to work in a department that makes money you will get a good bonus. Some have doubled their bonuses this year, others have not," said one trader.

Another had a more abrupt explanation: "The fat got fatter and the poor got poorer," he said. The leading US investment bank Goldman Sachs has reportedly handed out a total of pounds 4.1bn in bonuses this year to staff worldwide - with the average package worth pounds 42,000.

Rob, sipping Corney and Barrow's finest despite complaining of a lower bonus this year, said: "Overall it has been a subdued end of year for the European banking community, though I am sure it is a different story in US investments."

William, a 49-year-old city broker, had another explanation. "In general it has been a good year but the last three months in the money markets have been rather overshadowed by Y2K. People are paranoid about balancing the books at the end of the year."

But if Armageddon is just around the corner in the shape of a technological bug, there was little evidence of it in the brisk bar-room trade yesterday.

Hamish McCrae,

Review, page 5