Discussing disappointing bonus with seniors

Interested to hear others' thoughts on how best to approach a discussion with seniors regarding a disappointing bonus, if at all.

Not interested in starting in argument with them in anyway but really just seeking more insight into how my compensation was determined relative to others, etc. As a 2nd year associate in 2022 (entering my final year as associate now) I was surprised by my number, particularly in the context of anecdotal data points I collected from peers my year and one below as well as overwhelmingly positive feedback during my reviews from seniors.

I've already spoken with one junior MD on the topic for perspective and he flat out stated the work product from myself is not even comparable to the other associates and that all the seniors like working with me. Curious how others would approach this situation. Thx

Comments (22)

Dudesdudes96, what's your opinion? Comment below:

If everything you said was true, then the bonus was shitty because the firm decided they didn't want to pay big ones to junior staff 

  • Associate 1 in IB - Cov

Please don't bring it up. There is no upside that can realistically occur. I promise you the bank does not have extra $$$ laying around to give to those who felt they deserved more. If you can see yourself sticking around then keep quiet about it, maybe mention 1x in like 6 months when things relax a bit, but don't bring it up anytime soon especially in a market where people are just hoping to still have a job.

Premia, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I would only bring it up once with a senior banker you might consider a friend, and test their receptivity to you bringing up to others.

BankBoy23, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I agree with others. Why bring this up? I really doubt you mentioning this is going to get them to increase bonus numbers going forward, unless it's like a 3 man shop and a chronic issue 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen

I have actually brought it up before (think I was ASO 1 at the time). I dont remember what I said but I basically told them I was disappointed. It's fine to bring it up if you have worked with them for a while and if you set the tone right. Ultimately, nothing will change but they will at least know how you felt and why you decided to leave (if you do decide to leave). Not saying you should do it one way or another. 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen

Not really but the MD did tell me he would look into it and get back to me. He told me we got screwed bc of covid but not much he could do about it. Either way it didnt hurt me to have brought it up.

  • Prospect in PE - Growth

What are people afraid of bringing it up? What could be worse? They fire you? Great. Take some time off, recharge, and spend more time with family. Get away from stupid Wall Street gaslighting….

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BankBoy23, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Okay yeah if you don't care about keeping your job or how your employer perceives you, bring it up. 

im not saying the view from the ppl you'd be saying it to is right, but this is how the industry is 

Most Helpful
  • Managing Director in IB-M&A

This makes no sense to me. When I've felt my number was unfair (and it's happened three times, as an analyst, a VP and a MD), I've always expressed my frustration and it's always the right thing to do. There's nothing wrong with expressing that comp is a two way street.

I also have no problem when people have the conversation with me. I think it's perfectly reasonable to justify to folks why they got paid what they did. And I think most of my peers would feel the same way.

the key is to:

a) depersonalize the discussion. The conversations that go the worst are, "but I try so hard and am so good" when I explain that "you are valuable, but others are more valuable". The less personal you make it, the better the feedback

b) be fact based and data driven

Having the conversation serves two purposes, the first is to establish your future expectations. The second might be monetary although this applies more when you're more senior. Banks always keep a little in their back pocket to deal with this sort of situation.

buzz_bronzo, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This. I've had these convos recently and have mixed in the qualitative aspect + data driven rationale (shows you've done your homework). I guarantee that high performers who express that they care about compensation trajectory to their bosses will get paid more in general than those who never bring it up.

For those of us that work in S&T we're also expected to have the same type of conversation with clients when we feel they aren't paying us enough for the value that we deliver...why wouldn't you advocate for yourself in the same manner? 

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gufmo, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Seriously, a lot of bootlicking going on in here.

You should say something to the effect of: "I don't think my number is reflective of my work product or level of output. I'm disappointed, but understand the environment in which we are operating".

You shouldn't expect anything to come out of this, but literally every MD, every year, regardless of their number, complains. It's critical. Nobody that has any sense of self worth just sits there and says "thanks".

ResumeAttached, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This is the type of approach I was thinking as well so appreciate the perspective from a more senior level. In no way am I coming at this to express that they should pay me more immediately to "rectify". I'm an adult and can handle some disappointment. For me, it's more about understanding that given all the positive feedback what is it that I can do to standout and become one of those "more valuable" team members you mention rather than going in there just to complain.

I've already had two additional MDs pull me aside to chat because apparently word got around about the bonuses. They asked the VPs who may be a risk on the team to leave as a result of the bonuses and they all said I could be a risk so perhaps some seniors are trying to get out in front of it and I suppose that could be a good sign that my work is valued. 

I'd much prefer honest feedback and perspective from the seniors is all. I can certainly chalk a lower number than expected up to a tough year overall for the team and banks in general, but just given the data points from others on the team I'd appreciate some concrete answers from the seniors on how best to approach the coming year. That's really all I'd be seeking out of the conversation and I don't see any harm in approaching the conversations in that manner.

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A

And since I've been an MD after bonus rounds, I've always had a chat with my boss who runs banking around how each of the individual comp discussions (focus on VPs and up and some top performers below) went.

He will then give me a long speech about how he drew water from a stone and there's nothing left, but also contradict himself by asking if any interventions are necessary. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - Other

I've seen this work in a one-off situation where a lateral who came in was mis-titled, promoted two levels (An3 to AsO2) after being there 9 months but got a mid-bucket for An3 after crushing.   Basically someone who was really good where HR had a policy of just giving "guidance" as the bonus and slipped through the cracks.  Situation was rectified with the lateral getting mid-bucket ASO1 TC pretty quickly.  

I would think about your conversation whether its to ask for more because you significantly outperformed in your class or if its to generally express disappointment.  If you are complaining about the amount top-bucket got, or that you got mid-bucket and wanted top, its a fine line to tread.  If its more you think you crushed and you got what looks like bottom bucket, maybe it warrants a conversation on asking more.  

  • Managing Director in VC

Years ago when I was an Assoc I got a 10k bonus (well below peers / rankings). I voiced my frustration in a very firm manner to my MD during the bonus conversation, and he wasn't having my attitude and shot right back. Next day the Head of the Region asked to have a chat with me and advised I tread lighter than I did… Everyone moved on (or so I thought), and then I was part of a RIF 8 months later.. The RIF was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me as I got a job in a new product, am now an MD2 and 10x'd my comp over 7 years.

I'm a firm believer in standing up for yourself if the risk/reward says so. You just need to understand the consequences of doing so, as they might not be pretty.

  • Principal in RE - Comm

Yes, understand the consequences of doing so, and possibly have something lined up before doing it

maplesyrup334, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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ASEANalyst, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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