Bonus Damage: Less Severe Than Feared

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When a poll of eFinancialCareers users last October found two in three expected to receive a bonus for 2008, the results sparked outrage beyond financial circles.

New data indicate that statistic may have been too pessimistic.

Nearly four in five eFC users (79 percent) who responded to a similar survey in early January said they received a year-end payout. Among the overall group of 900 respondents, 36 percent received the same or a larger payout for 2008 than for 2007 - the same proportion that anticipated receiving a larger bonus in the October survey. One in five reported receiving a double-digit percentage increase compared with 2007 - better than the October poll's 16 percent figure.

If past is prologue, look for elected officials and chat boards to greet these latest results with yet more denunciations of "greedy bankers" and grumbling about the use of taxpayer-funded TARP injections.

46 Percent Aren't Satisfied

But are the bonus recipients happy? Surprisingly, no. Notwithstanding the financial industry's turmoil, even many of those reporting a higher payout for 2008 said they feel neutral about or dissatisfied with their bonus.

eFinancialCareers Chief Executive John Benson (who's also our boss) told Bloomberg News the dissatisfaction signifies "the bonus culture is very deep-set in the securities industry. There's an entitlement culture amongst a number of people in the industry, which I think in the current environment is very misplaced."

In the latest eFC survey:

- Just 26 percent of respondents who received a bonus say they were either "satisfied" (21 percent) or "very satisfied" (5 percent) with the amount.

- On the other side of the coin, 46 percent report feeling either "dissatisfied" (20 percent) or "very dissatisfied" (26 percent).

- The dissatisfied groups are made up mostly of individuals with up to five years' experience in finance - people who haven't suffered through a bear market before, so presumably haven't learned that annual compensation gains aren't automatic.

Asked to describe their "current situation:"

- Just 10 percent of employed respondents said they're looking for a new job because they fear being laid off.

- Sixteen percent said they would love to switch jobs, but are "staying put for now to play it safe."

- Twenty percent were unhappy with their job and "looking to change as soon as possible."

- Fifteen percent reported being "very happy with my job and not looking to move."

- The largest group, 39 percent, said their job is fine but they would be "open to a better opportunity."