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The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again?) of Investment Banking Christmas Parties


We all have a similar image that comes to mind when we talk about investment banking Christmas parties – unfettered extravagance, lots of expensive booze, and bankers letting loose after another stressful year of trading and deal-making.

In the early to mid-2000s, this Wolf of Wall Street­ inspired image would have been close to reality. Every year there were tales of outrageous events, with rumours flying around about what did or didn’t happen. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds were reportedly spent on these parties to celebrate every year.

Bloomberg’s Christmas Party in 2000 arguably set the tone for this period, supposedly spending over one million pounds on an extravagant celebration with the seven deadly sins as the theme. If the deadly sins are all about excess, then this party was bang on the money.

Parties hosted by Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs were also amongst the most notorious – with a performance from Robbie Williams in 2001 for the former, and alleged fights between fancy dress-clad bankers in 2004 for the latter (picture a chav in a fight with a Dalmatian).

A lot of the large banks had their fair share of outlandish parties until the financial crash in 2008. After this, the annual extravagance seemed tone-deaf given the economic situation, so most banks either replaced their usual festivities with something much more modest, or cancelled them altogether.

New York Magazine reported in 2010 that Goldman Sachs had cancelled its Christmas party for the third year in a row, and if employees wanted to organise their own gatherings, they had to have no more than fifteen attendees.

Although having to limit numbers is all too familiar to us in 2020, at the time this was a stark contrast to previous investment banking parties. Other banks had reportedly taken similar approaches, keen to avoid anything too public.

Nonetheless, not everyone was forced into drab £10-a-head affairs. In 2009, both the American and London branches of Deutsche Bank were said to have hosted parties that were a continuation of previous years’ antics.

In New York, there was an open bar at 230 Fifth, a glamorous rooftop lounge that has seen a deluge of investment banking parties over the years. In London, the party ended up at the Cuckoo Club, a luxurious location popular with celebrities.

For most, however, public scrutiny was still playing a large role in the decisions regarding the (in)famous Christmas parties. This has continued into more recent years, with banks still trying to avoid any raised eyebrows, but that doesn’t mean the lavish spending isn’t making a comeback.

In 2016, Reuters told of Wall Street’s return to spending larger amounts on Christmas parties, though not quite on the same scale as pre-2008. A partial return to the glamour of previous parties, but perhaps a little more low-key and without so much media attention, as pictures of the events made it to Instagram rather than the newspapers.

This return has been faster for banks’ back-office staff than most, according to the Financial Times. 2015 saw reports of decadent black-tie and Bond-themed parties, with some even taking place abroad, still eager to avoid the public gaze.

However, given that 2020 has been one long stretch of cancelled events, which looks likely to continue into next year, Christmas 2021 may yet be the biggest party so far. Like everyone else, bankers may want to go wild to make up for this years’ virtual soirées – presuming, of course, that Christmas 2021 looks more like the Christmases we’re used to.

If this is the case, some advice for those new to investment banking: booze, nerves and the pressure of the job do not mix. Don’t be remembered for not making it back to the firm in the New Year.

Instead, have fun, use this chance to talk to your colleagues about things outside the business world, but keep in mind that you’re at a work event. If you’re looking for something to wear, read our article on style tips for your investment banking Christmas party here.

Will 2021 see a definite return, then, of the notorious investment banking Christmas party? The allure of an extravagant celebration after, potentially, over a year of restrictions may be too good to resist. As for the celebrity appearances, fights, and other scandalous details, we’ll have to wait and see.

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