• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 12:51pm

Samples of my hate mail on the topic of bonuses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am

When the president of the United States takes an interest in whether or not you get a bonus, you might think twice about insisting on full compliance with the terms of your contract.

The fact that this hasn't occurred to the executives in the financial products unit at AIG is a good indication of the lingering gap in opinion between the public and the people who work in finance.

The extent of the outrage felt towards bankers became pretty clear to me a couple of weeks ago in the form of several nasty letters from readers. I had attempted to explain how a lot of bankers feel about being paid a bonus this year.

Given that pretty much every media outlet had taken the same approach to the question of whether bankers deserved to receive a bonus, I thought readers might be interested to hear a different perspective - that bankers who made money, rather than lost it, still deserved to get a bonus.

Well, I was wrong. Based on the mail I received in response to that article I think I can conclude that there is no sympathy out there for well-compensated bankers, no matter how well they have actually performed.

One reader, Christophe, wrote to tell me that my article was a 'very strong reminder of how disconnected from reality bankers are' and that expecting a bonus 'while tens of millions of people are being laid off, families broken apart and people thrown in the streets with no houses is just obscene'.

As if this scenario wasn't frightening enough, Christophe went on to explain that if bankers weren't prepared to share the pain of the current economic climate, the economy may 'go down spiralling so much that world financial systems and currencies collapse and we return to the Middle Ages'.

At that point us bankers will really be in trouble since we 'will be unable to survive as it is very well known that bankers do not know how to do anything but piggy on other people's backs, then you will see billions of hungry and angry people in the streets and you will feel the fear that most people experience in their daily lives'.

I'm not certain, but I think Christophe's apocalyptic message is that us bankers are going to be eaten by these hungry and angry non-bankers, and I expect some readers will be quite pleased to hear this.

I can't disagree that I would certainly be frightened in these circumstances, but I was surprised to read that this is a fear that most people experience daily. Things are certainly tough out there.

Jeffry from Clear Water Bay, on the other hand, says that if taxpayers had not bailed out the banks, including the bank that I work for, then 'the bank would have failed. If the bank failed then ALL employees would be out on the street including the bankers themselves. Not only would they not have their bonus, they would also not have a job and therefore no monthly income'.

Jeffry suggests that bankers should be thanking the world's taxpayers 'on their bare knees' and while we are at it we should come down from our 'pedestals'.

He goes on to explain his general distaste for bankers who work in mergers and acquisitions as follows: 'And for those 'poor guys' in M&A who still deserve their bonus according to Alan, I would say have a talk with the shareholders of Fortis and RBS whom you pushed to paying an ever higher price for ABN Amro so you can increase your income too.

'If a barkeeper would keep serving, not even pushing, a customer more and more alcohol and the customer 'fails', the barkeeper can face jail time for manslaughter. The guys at M&A should also advise their customers when enough is enough.'

I'm not sure about the accuracy of this analogy, but I do wonder if Jeffry would think that the barman should still go to jail if the failing customer was a banker who was drinking away his depression at not receiving a bonus.

David, who perhaps jokingly gave his surname as 'Davidson', has a fairly black-and-white view of the issue: 'When the firm is technically bankrupt, no one should receive anything. That's just life and everyone has to live by those rules'.

Only one reader changed the first letter of 'banker' to express outrage at the bonus system, and another suggested that I didn't need to write the article since 'obviously, people don't think all bankers are greedy and money hungry'.

As charitable as that is, thanks to the behaviour of AIG's management last week, I doubt there is anyone left who would agree.

I'll put the full text of these letters on my website (alanalanson.com) if anyone is interested in reading more about what dreadful people bankers are. And if anyone has a contrary view, I'd love to hear it ... really ... I could do with some cheering up.

Contact Alan Alanson at alan@alanalanson.com

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