Executive pay has been a contentious issue in recent years, with bankers’ bonuses stealing many headlines. Shareholders have been voicing their opinions on bonuses paid to top executives and the management teams at the banks in question are unlikely to be too pleased with the turn of events.
Nearly one third of shareholders from Credit Suisse opposed the bonuses that were set out to be paid to their executives; more than 50% of shareholders from Citigroup rejected the plan to pay their Chief Executive £9.2m for 2011 and, at the end of April, almost a third of shareholders at Barclays refused to support the bank’s pay awards. Barclay’s Chief Executive was to be paid £17.7m, but this revolt is just another indication of how the tide is turning against having to pay big bonuses to retain the best staff.
Bonuses are essentially there to reward good performance. For example, if a company or bank achieves higher than expected profits, you may support a bonus for the key individuals who achieved this. However, in the case of Barclays, the £17.7m package for the Chief Executive was to be paid, despite him saying that his bank’s performance in 2011 was ‘unacceptable’. I wonder what bonus might have been suggested had the performance been ‘acceptable’?
Revolts over big bonuses are not a new thing for 2012. Over the past few years, more and more resentment has been growing for the huge pay increases received by top managers. Many big companies around the world have seen shareholder revolts and this could mean the tide is beginning to turn on big bonuses. The following articles consider this contentious issue.
Credit Suisse and Barclays investors revolt over pay Reuters, Matt Scuffham and Katharina Bart (27/4/12)
Aviva rocked by shareholder rebellion over pay Guardian, Jill Treanor and Julia Kollewe (3/5/12)
Tide turns on bank bonuses as revolt hits UK Scotsman, Bill Jamieson and Tom Peterkin (28/4/12)
Barclays AGM: ‘We can’t pay zero bonuses, the consequences would be dire’ Telegraph, Harry Wilson (27/4/12)
Barclays shareholders have spoken. The overpaid must listen Guardian, Chuka Umunna (27/4/12)
Barclays suffers executive pay backlash Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (27/4/12)
Aviva to review pay policy amid investor concerns Wall Street Journal, Jessica Hodgson and Vladimir Guevarra (30/4/12)
UBS faces shareholder opposition over executive pay New York Times, Julia Werdigier (3/5/12)
Low returns stir Europe-wide revolt on bankers’ pay Reuters, Steve Slater and Sinead Cruise (25/4/12)
Barclays targeted over bonuses Telegraph, Louise Peacock (9/4/12)
UBS gets stinging rebuke from shareholders on pay Reuters, Katharina Bart (3/5/12)
Vince Cable urges investors to keep up the pressure on executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor (4/5/12)
- To what extent do you think high bonuses are the most important variable to a company in retaining the best staff?
- In The Telegraph article by Harry Wilson, Barclays’ Chairman is quoted as saying: ‘We can’t pay zero bonuses, the consequences would be dire’. What would be the consequences if Barclays did pay zero bonuses?
- What would be the consequence if all UK firms paid zero bonuses?
- How would smaller bonuses affect shareholder dividends?
- The Guardian article by Chuka Umunna says that ‘excessive pay and rewards for failure are bad for shareholders, the economy and society.’ Why is this?
- Should those receiving big bonuses be forced to give them up, if their company has under-performed?
- What are the main arguments for and against paying out big bonuses?
There is a growing consensus amongst the political parties in the UK that something needs to be done to end the huge pay rises of senior executives. According to the High Pay Commission, directors of FTSE 100 companies saw their remuneration packages rise by 49% in 2010. Average private-sector employees’ pay, by contrast, rose by a mere 2.7% (below the CPI rate of inflation for 2010 of 3.3% and well below the RPI inflation rate of 4.6%), with many people’s wages remaining frozen, especially in the public sector. (See Directing directors’ pay.) In 1979 the top 0.1% took home 1.3% of GDP; today the figure is 7%.
But agreeing that something needs to be done, does not mean that the parties agree on what to do. The Prime Minister, reflecting the views of Conservative ministers, has called for binding shareholder votes on top executives’ pay. The Liberal Democrats go further and are urging remuneration committees to be opened up to independent figures who would guard against the cosy arrangement whereby company heads set each other’s pay. The Labour Party is calling for worker representation on remuneration committees, simplifying remuneration packages into salary and just one performance-related element, and publishing tables of how much more bosses earn than various other groups of employees in the company.
So what measures are likely to be the most successful in reining in executive pay and what are the drawbacks of each measure? The following articles consider the problem and the proposals.
Parties draw up battle lines over excessive executive pay Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt (9/1/12)
David Cameron’s plans for executive pay may not end spiralling bonuses Guardian, Jill Treanor (8/1/12)
Executive pay: what would Margaret Thatcher have done? Guardian Politics Blog, Michael White (9/1/12)
Businesses tell the PM he’s wrong about ‘fat cat’ pay Independent, Nigel Morris (9/1/12)
Directors’ pay is not the Government’s business The Telegraph, Telegraph View (9/1/12)
I’ll end merry go round of bosses’ pay, says David Cameron Scotsman (9/1/12)
Find a place at the table for public interest directors Scotsman, leader (9/1/12)
Cameron vows executive pay crackdown Financial Times, George Parker (9/1/12)
Q&A: Voting on executive pay BBC News (8/1/12)
Will shareholders crack down on executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (8/1/12)
Why didn’t investors stop high executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/1/12)
Cheques With Balances: why tackling high pay is in the national interest Final report of the High Pay Commission (22/11/11)
- Why has the remuneration of top executives risen so much faster than average pay?
- What market failures are there in the determination of executive pay?
- What insights can the theory of oligopoly give into the determination of executive pay?
- Compare the proposals of the three main parties in the UK for tackling excessive executive pay?
- To what extent is it in the interests of shareholders to curb executive pay?
- Why may it be difficult to measure the marginal productivity of senior executives?
- To what extent would greater transparency about pay awards help to curb their size?
- What moral hazards are involved in giving large increases in remuneration to senior executives?
Pay rises have been few and far between since the onset of recession – at least that’s the case for most workers. Pay for private-sector workers rose by 2.7% on average over the past year and for many in the public sector there were pay freezes. But, one group did considerably better: directors. According to the Incomes Data Services (IDS), over the past year, the average pay of the directors of the FTSE 100 companies has increased by almost 50%. Not bad for the aftermath of a recession! Much of the increase in overall pay for directors came from higher bonuses; they rose on average by 23% from £737,000 in 2010 to £906,000 this year.
Unsurprisingly, politicians from all sides have commented on the data – David Cameron said the report was ‘concerning’ and has called for the larger companies to become more transparent about how they set executive pay. How much difference transparency will make is debatable. However, Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive of WPP defended these pay rises, by comparing the pay of directors of UK companies with their counterparts in other parts of the world.
However, this defence is unlikely to make the average person feel any better, as for most people, their overall standard of living has fallen. With CPI inflation at 3.3% in 2010 (and RPI inflation at 4.6%) a person receiving the average private-sector pay rise of 2.7% was worse off; with a pay freeze they would be considerably worse off. Essentially, buying power has fallen, as people’s incomes can purchase them fewer and fewer goods.
However, the data have given David Cameron an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of more women executives. He believes that more women at the top of the big companies and hence in the boardroom would have a positive effect on pay restraint. However, this was met with some skepticism. The following podcasts and articles consider this issue.
Podcasts and webcasts
Directors’ pay rose 50% in past year BBC News, Emma Simpson (28/10/11)
‘Spectacular’ share payouts for executives BBC Today Programme, Steve Tatton of Income Data Services (29/10/11)
Sir Martin Sorrell defends top pay BBC Today Programme, Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief executive of WPP (28/10/11)
‘A closed little club’ sets executive pay BBC Today Programme, John Purcell and Deborah Hargreaves (28/10/11)
Cameron says Executive pay in U.K. is ‘Issue of concern’ after 49% advance Bloomberg, Thomas Penny (28/10/11)
Directors’ pay rose 50% in last year, says IDS report BBC News (28/10/11)
Cameron ties top pay to women executives issue Financial Times, Jim Pickard and Brian Groom (28/10/11)
£4m advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell defends rising executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor and Mark Sweney (28/10/11)
Executive pay soars while the young poor face freefall: where is Labour? Guardian, Polly Toynbee (28/10/11)
My pay is very low, moans advertising tycoon with a basic salary of £1 MILLION a year Mail Online, Jason Groves and Rupert Steiner (29/10/11)
More women directors will rein in excessive pay, says David Cameron Guardian, Nicholas Watt (28/10/11)
David Cameron and Nick Clegg criticise directors’ ‘50% pay rise’ BBC News (28/10/11)
The FTSE fat cats are purring over their pay but that’s good for the UK The Telegraph, Damian Reece (28/10/11)
IDS press release
FTSE 100 directors get 49% increase in total earnings Incomes Data Services (26/10/11)
- What are the arguments supporting such high pay for the Directors of large UK companies?
- How are wages set in a) perfectly and b) Imperfectly competitive markets?
- Why is the average person worse off, despite pay rises of 2.5%?
- Why does David Cameron believe that more women in the boardroom would act to restrict pay rises?
- To what extent do you think that more transparency in setting pay would improve the system of determining executive pay?
- Do senior executives need to be paid millions of pounds per year to do a good job? How would you set about finding the evidence to answer this question?
- Is the high pay of senior executives a ‘market’ rate of pay or is it the result of oligopolistic collusion between the remuneration committees of large companies (a form of ‘closed shop’)?
- What would be the effect over time on executive pay of remuneration committees basing their recommendations on the top 50% of pay rates in comparable companies?
Two reports released by Incomes Data Services tell dramatically contrasting stories about pay in the UK. One report focuses on average pay in the public and private sectors, which are both likely to fall in real terms in 2011. Most public-sector workers will see a freeze in their wages and, whilst private-sector workers’ pay could rise by an average of 3%, this will still be below the rate of inflation. The press release Pay awards may rise but will trail inflation (6/1/11) to the report stated that:
Private sector pay settlements in 2011 could well be higher than in 2010, as long as the economic recovery remains on track. But following the latest increase in VAT, they are likely to trail inflation, meaning that the cost of living may be set to rise faster than average pay settlements for the second year running.
However, the press release to an earlier report, FTSE-100 bosses see earnings rise 55% (29/10/10), stated that:
FTSE-100 directors saw their total earnings boosted by an average of 55% while across the FTSE 350 as a whole total board pay went up by an average 45%, according to the latest Directors Pay Report, published by Incomes Data Services. (Year to June 2010)
On the back of these increases FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9 million on average in total earnings during the year.
Meanwhile, there is continuing public outcry over the levels of bank pay and bonuses. Despite billions of pounds of public money having been poured into banks to prevent their collapse, bank bosses are set to receive huge remuneration packages worth several million pounds in some cases. And, despite being condemned by the government, it seems there is little it can do to curb them.
So what are the causes of the growing income divide between those at the top and everyone else? And what are the economic consequences? The following articles explore the issues.
Articles: IDS reports
Year of pain predicted for workers.. while bosses’ salaries continue to grow Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (7/1/11)
Another 12 months of pay freeze misery for workers… but bosses enjoy a huge 55% salary increase Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (6/1/11)
Private-sector pay set to trail behind inflation People Management, Michelle Stevens (6/1/11)
Private pay deals to lag behind inflation Financial Times, Brian Groom (6/1/11)
UK boardroom pay rises 55% in an age of austerity Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/10)
Private sector pay ‘to trail inflation’ in 2011 BBC News (6/1/11)
Staff morale warning over bosses’ pay rises Independent, Jon Smith (6/1/11)
‘Dose of reality’ call over top pay BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston, Brendan Barber and Garry Wilson (6/1/11)
‘Severe squeeze’ on average pay BBC Today Programme, Ken Mulkearn (Editor of the Incomes Data Services pay review) (6/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News , Ian Pollock (18/1/11)
Articles: bankers’ bonuses
Bank bonuses ‘to run to billions in 2011’ BBC News, (7/1/11)
Cameron says banks ‘should pay smaller bonuses’ BBC News, (9/1/11)
David Cameron warns RBS over bonuses Guardian, (9/1/11)
Banks say ‘no’ to bonus backdown Management Today, Andrew Saunders (7/1/11)
Banks to pay out billions in bonuses BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (6/1/11)
Why government can’t stop big bonus payments BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (7/1/11)
Diamond: ‘I am compelled to pay big bonuses’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (11/1/11)
Average Weekly Earnings Incomes Data Services
- Why are average earnings likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2011?
- Why were the directors of the FTSE 100 companies paid an average 55% pay increase for the year to October 2010?
- To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the huge increases of bosses of top companies?
- If remuneration committees base executive pay increases on the average of the top 25% of increases of equivalent people in other companies (to stop ‘poaching’), what will be the implications for executive pay rises over time?
- What market failures are there in determining executive pay?
- What will be the implications for staff morale if their earnings are falling in real terms while their bosses are receiving huge pay increases? Should these implications be taken into account when deciding executive remuneration packages?
- Are shareholders in FTSE 100 companies likely to welcome the pay increases of their top executives? If so, why? If not, why not?
With government cuts and pay freezes, many people are worried about their future. Against this background it’s little wonder that people are growing increasingly resentful about the soaring pay of bankers and other leaders of major companies – especially when they reflect on the behaviour of top bankers who were largely responsible for the recession in the West and the debt problems that resulted. And the gap between those at the top and workers on average pay just goes on widening. As the final article below states:
The boss who sells Cillit Bang got paid a hefty £92.6m last year, while his counterpart who builds executive homes pocketed £38.4m and a top miner took home £27m. These are not figures from some international football league, but the bosses of Britain’s biggest companies, who received an average 55% pay rise in the year to June. A top FTSE 100 boss now earns £4.9m – 88 times the average worker’s pay.
On 9 November 2010, a high pay commission was launched to investigate the yawning pay gap between top executives and those on average incomes.
As the high pay commission, set up by the thinktank Compass and backed by the Joseph Rowntree charitable trust, begins its year-long analysis into the widening gap between the lowest and highest paid, a Compass poll shows that 99% of people believe that top executives are overpaid.
The commision will seek answers to questions such as the following: Why has the gap widened so massively? What is the role of globalisation in the process? Why has competition not worked to compete top pay down? Why don’t company owners impose more restraint on executive pay? Is there a form of collusion to push executive pay ever higher? Are executives worth it?!
Let’s make CEOs justify their wages Guardian, Martin O’Neill (19/10/10)
FTSE 100 bosses criticised as boardroom pay leaps by 55% Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/11)
Investigation launched into soaring executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor (9/11/10)
Eighty-five per cent of people say top executives ‘should be paid less’ Telegraph, Ian Cowie (9/11/10)
Top executives paid ‘far too much’ Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (9/11/10)
A mission to the outer limits of pay Financial Times, Andrew Hill and Esther Bintliff (9/11/10) (first part of article)
Sharing the spoils of business fairly Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (13/11/10)
The High Pay Commission
The High Pay Commission, home page
- Desribe what has happened to executive pay of the top companies over recent years.
- How are executive pay packages determined?
- How relevant is marginal productivity theory in explaining executive pay?
- What are the incentive effects of having extremely high pay?
- What scope is there for collusion in determining executive pay?
- Why don’t company owners impose more restraint on executive pay?
- What are the social impacts of excessive executive pay?
- What could the government do to address the problem?