Bank earnings are slim right now in a world flush with rock-bottom interest rates, but those relatively small profits will mean little to the bosses of major financial institutions who are set to receive absolutely large bonuses from their supervisory boards next year. While bonuses will be slashed for traders and sales representatives in commodities dealing, fixed-income services and other underperforming bank segments, the leaders of Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank AG and similar financial institutions will be spared the cost-cutting.
Bank board members feel pressured to sweeten the compensation deals of top executives to retain them, according to execs who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Financial Times Thursday.
“There’s a bid out there for the top talent,” one senior executive at the European arm of a large U.S. bank told the FT. “The Europeans have a lot of headhunters working for them. The world has changed quite a bit, even if bonuses are down ... the best jockeys will be protected.”
Bonus-based executive pay has been in the crosshairs of critics for years. Many blame risky bets made by top bankers for contributing to the 2008 global financial crisis and to other mishaps that at times have cost banks and their shareholders dearly.
Barclays PLC was fined by a British regulator for failing to avoid money-laundering practices linked to a secretive $2.83 billion arrangement for rich clients. Although the regulator indicated no financial crime was committed by the bank, the deal was orchestrated under its former CEO Bob Diamond, who in 2010 and 2011 nurtured lucrative but loosely regulated so-called elephant deals involving Middle Eastern clients.
Diamond resigned in 2012 in the wake of the massive massive scandal centered on the rigging of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, an interest rate whose importance extends well beyond the borders of the U.K. He voluntarily gave up $31 million in bonuses, but was given a year’s worth of salary, about $2 million.
The recently appointed co-CEO of Deutsche Bank, John Cryan, lashed out Monday at the performance-based bonus system that awards bank chiefs too much money too quickly. Bankers aren’t entrepreneurs and shouldn’t be rewarded like them, he said.
Cryan said at a conference in Germany’s Frankfurt Monday that many people in the banking industry “still believe they should be paid entrepreneurial wages for turning up to work with a regular salary, a pension and probably a health-care scheme, and playing with other people’s money,” Bloomberg News reported. “There doesn’t seem to be anything entrepreneurial about that except the compensation structures.”
When asked whether he would lead by example and give up his own performance-based pay, however, Cryan ducked: “This is a matter for the supervisory board,” he replied.