U.S. banks whose compensation plans encourage excessive risk-taking would have to pay more for deposit insurance under a proposal floated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp on Tuesday.

The proposal is very preliminary and was contentious even among the members of the FDIC board, which is made up of regulators for different-sized financial firms. The board voted 3-2 to seek public comment on the proposal.

The plan would use the incentive of lower insurance premiums to reward pay structures that tie banker pay to long-term performance and include clawback provisions to recoup payments if they were based on performance results that do not hold up over time.

Banks with risky payment schemes, including huge cash components and incentives for short-term results, would have to pay more in insurance fees.

There is such an overwhelming amount of evidence that this was a contributor to the crisis, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said during the FDIC board meeting, referring to improperly structured pay plans.

There was significant disagreement on the board about the proposal, and while the tone of the meeting was cordial, there was clearly tension about the merits of the FDIC plan.

Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan said the proposal would be premature because of other efforts to police pay.

The Federal Reserve in October issued preliminary guidelines that would dictate prudent compensation practices for all levels of bank employees. Congress is also crafting legislation to rein in risky pay practices.

Dugan, who voted against the proposal, said tweaking the deposit insurance fee system might not effectively get at the problem of risky pay structures.

It would be very unfortunate to have an end result where insured institutions -- and perhaps their holding companies -- were subject to inconsistent schemes evaluating the risk of their executive compensation programs, said Dugan, whose agency regulates some of the largest U.S. banks.

John Bowman, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, also voted against the proposal, saying there is not enough evidence linking pay structures to bank failures and questioning whether the FDIC even has the authority to enact such a proposal.


The proposal, which is not guaranteed to lead to rulemaking, said the FDIC would not seek to impose specific levels of compensation. Also, the proposal does not include clear, pay-related criteria that would be used to determine if a bank should pay higher or lower assessments.

We're not talking about (compensation) levels, notwithstanding my dismay, Bair said.

She has been an outspoken critic of huge bonuses at banks, encouraging larger institutions to take a breather from the big payouts.

The FDIC proposal comes as bonuses for bankers have returned to the spotlight, with the nation's biggest banks preparing to hand out awards that critics say were made possible only by taxpayer bailouts.

This week, the White House and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo went on the offensive against big Wall Street bonuses. Cuomo asked top bailout recipients to turn over data on expected payouts. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said some Wall Street executives continue not to get it when it comes to the fairness of big bonuses.

The FDIC's deposit insurance fee system is already risk-based. Banks with low supervisory ratings and high amounts of broker deposits pay higher rates to federally insure their customers' accounts.

The proposal would add another risk metric to the fee system.

It will be put out for 30 days of public comment. The proposal would not likely result in a final rule until early next year, if it advances.

The FDIC insures accounts up to $250,000 at more than 8,000 U.S. banks. (Reporting by Karey Wutkowski and Steve Eder; editing by John Wallace)