Wall Street Bonuses Fell From 2009 Level

Wall Street firms paid out more than $20 billion in bonuses last year, but that was down some from the previous year. Big firms have been paying higher base salaries and holding down bonuses in response to regulatory changes.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Despite all the talk about reining in Wall Street firms, compensation in the financial sector actually rose last year, according to a report from the New York Comptroller's Office. The less of it was handed out in the form of cash bonuses.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released his annual survey of the wages and bonuses given by Wall Street firms to their employees. He said the average cash bonus in 2010 was more than $128,000 a drop of nine percent from the year before. But DiNapoli said the decline isn't what it appears to be.

Mr. THOMAS DINAPOLI (Comptroller): It's important to note that while the cash bonus pool has declined, we estimate overall compensation has grown.

ZARROLI: DiNapoli said compensation on Wall Street grew six percent last year, but because bonuses have become so controversial and because of regulatory changes, many firms have altered the way they compensate employees. They're giving out less money in bonuses and more money in the form of base salaries. They're also deferring more of the money they pay out.

Mr. DINAPOLI: It is not an indication that Wall Street has weakened. In fact, it is simply recognition of the change in compensation practices following the financial meltdown.

ZARROLI: DiNapoli said last year was actually the second most profitable year in Wall Street's history. The member firms of the New York Stock Exchange made more than $27 billion. And there are other signs of a rebound. Wall Street firms added 3,600 jobs between August and December of last year.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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