As part of the Basel III round of banking regulations, representatives of the EU Parliament and member governments have agreed with the European Commission that bankers’ bonuses should be capped. The proposal is to cap them at 100% of annual salary, or 200% with the agreement of shareholders. The full Parliament will vote in May and then it will go to officials from the 27 Member States. Under a system of qualified majority voting, it is expected to be accepted, despite UK resistance.
The main arguments in favour of a cap are that it will reduce the focus of bankers on short-term gains and reduce the incentive to take excessive risks. It will also appease the anger of electorates throughout the EU over bankers getting huge bonuses, especially in the light of the recession, caused in major part by the excesses of bankers.
The main argument against is that it will drive talented top bankers to countries outside the EU. This is a particular worry of the UK government, fearful of the effect on the City of London. There is also the criticism that it will simply drive banks into increasing basic salaries of senior executives to compensate for lower bonuses.
But it is not just the EU considering curbing bankers’ pay. The Swiss have just voted in a referendum to give shareholders the right to veto salaries and bonuses of executives of major companies. Many of these companies are banks or other financial sector organisations.
So just what will be the effect on incentives, banks’ performance and the movement of top bankers to countries without such caps? The following videos and articles explore these issues. As you will see, the topic is highly controversial and politically charged.
Meanwhile, HSBC has revealed its 2012 results. It paid out $1.9bn in fines for money laundering and set aside a further $2.3bn for mis-selling financial products in the UK. But its underlying profits were up 18%. Bonuses were up too. The 16 top executives received an average of $4.9m each. The Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, received $14.1m in 2012, 33% up on 2011 (see final article below).
Webcasts and podcasts
EU moves to cap bankers bonuses Euronews on Yahoo News (1/3/13)
EU to Curb Bank Bonuses WSJ Live (28/2/13)
Inside Story – Curbing Europe’s bank bonuses AlJazeera on YouTube (1/3/13)
Will EU bonus cap ‘damage economy’? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (28/2/13)
Swiss back curbs on executive pay in referendum BBC News (3/3/13)
Has the HSBC scandal impacted on business? BBC News, Jeremy Howell (4/3/13)
Bonuses: the essential guide The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Jill Treanor, Fiona Walsh, Julia Finch, Patrick Collinson and Ian Traynor (28/2/13)
Q&A: EU banker bonus cap plan BBC News (28/2/13)
Outcry, and a Little Cunning, From Euro Bankers The New York Times, Landon Thomas Jr. (28/2/13)
Bank bonuses may shrink – but watch as the salaries rise The Observer, Rob Taylor (3/3/13)
Don’t cap bank bonuses, scrap them The Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (28/2/13)
Capping banker bonuses simply avoids facing real bank problems The Telegraph, Mats Persson (2/3/13)
Pro bonus The Economist, Schumpeter column (28/2/13)
‘The most deluded measure to come from Europe since fixing the price of groceries in the Roman Empire’: Boris Johnson attacks EU banker bonus cap Independent, Gavin Cordon , Geoff Meade (28/2/13)
EU agrees to cap bankers’ bonuses BBC News (28/2/13)
Viewpoints: EU banker bonus cap BBC News (28/2/13)
Voters crack down on corporate pay packages swissinfo.ch , Urs Geiser (3/3/13)
Swiss voters seen backing executive pay curbs Reuters, Emma Thomasson (3/3/13)
Swiss referendum backs executive pay curbs BBC News (3/3/13)
Voters in Swiss referendum back curbs on executives’ pay and bonuses The Guardian, Kim Willsher and Phillip Inman (3/3/13)
Swiss vote for corporate pay curbs Financial Times, James Shotter and Alex Barker (3/3/13)
HSBC pays $4.2bn for fines and mis-selling in 2012 BBC News (4/3/13)
- How does competition, or a lack of it, in the banking industry affect senior bankers’ remuneration?
- What incentives are created by the bonus structure as it is now? Do these incentives result in desirable outcomes?
- How would you redesign the bonus system so that the incentives resulted in beneficial outcomes?
- If bonuses are capped as proposed by the EU, how would you assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages? What additional information would you need to know to make such an assessment?
- How has the relationship between banks and central banks over the past few years created a moral hazard? How could such a moral hazard be eliminated?
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?
We have covered the issue of bank bonuses in previous blogs. See for example: Banking on bonuses? Not for much longer (November 2009); “We want our money back and we’re going to get it” (President Obama) (January 2010); and Payback time (Updated April 2010). But the issue has not been resolved. Despite public outrage around the world over the behaviour of banks that caused the credit crunch and about banks having to be bailed out with ‘taxpayers money’ and, as a result, people facing tax rises and cuts in public-sector services and jobs, bankers’ pay and bonuses are soaring once more. The individuals who caused the global economic crisis seem immune to the effects of their actions. But are things about to change?
The Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has confirmed tough new guidelines on bank bonuses applying to all banks operating in the EU. The CEBS’s prime purpose in recommending restricting bonuses is to reduce the incentive for excessive and dangerous risk taking. As it states in paragraph 1 of the Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices:
Whilst institutions’ remuneration policies were not the direct cause of this crisis, their drawbacks, nonetheless, contributed to its gravity and scale. It was generally recognized that excessive remuneration in the financial sector fuelled a risk appetite that was disproportionate to the loss-absorption capacity of institutions and of the financial sector as a whole.
The guidelines include deferring 40–60% of bonuses for three to five years; paying a maximum of 50% of bonuses in cash (the remainder having to be in shares); setting a maximum bonus level as a percentage of an individual’s basic pay; appointing remuneration committees that are truly independent; publishing the pay and bonuses of all senior managers and ‘risk takers’. Although they are only recommendations, it is expected that bank regulators across the EU will implement them in full.
So will they be effective in curbing the pay and bonuses of top bank staff? Will they curb excessive risk taking? Or will banks simply find ways around the regulations? The following articles discuss these issues
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News, Hugh Pym (10/12/10)
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News (10/12/10)
Europe set to link banking bonuses to basic salaries The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (10/12/10)
Some bankers may escape EU cash bonus limit moneycontrol.com (India) (11/12/10)
Banks to sidestep bonus crackdown by raising salaries Guardian, Jill Treanor (10/12/10)
Bonuses: When bank jobs pay Guardian (11/12/10)
Bank bonuses (portal page) Financial Times
Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS)
CEBS home page
CEBS has today published its Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (CP42) CEBS news release (10/12/10)
Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (10/12/10)
- What are main objectives of the CEBS guidelines?
- Assess the arguments used by the banking industry in criticising the guidelines.
- In what ways can the banks get around these new regulations (assuming the guidelines are accepted by EU banking regulators)?
- What conditions would have to met for a remuneration committee to be truly independent?
- How likely is it that countries outside the EU will adopt similar regulations? How could they be persuaded to do so?
The International Monetary Fund published a report on banking, ahead of the G20 meeting of ministers on 23 April. The IMF states that banks should now pay for the bailout they received from governments during the credit crunch of 2008/9. As the first Guardian article states:
It is payback time for the banks. Widely blamed for causing the worst recession in the global economy since the 1930s, castigated for using taxpayer bailouts to fund big bonuses, and accused of starving businesses and households of credit, the message from the International Monetary Fund is clear: the day of reckoning is at hand.
The Washington-based fund puts the direct cost of saving the banking sector from collapse at a staggering $862bn (£559bn) – a bill that has put the public finances of many of the world’s biggest economies, including Britain and the United States, in a parlous state. Charged with coming up with a way of ensuring taxpayers will not have to dig deep a second time, the top economists at the IMF have drawn up an even more draconian blueprint than the banks had been expecting.
The IMF proposes two new taxes. The first had been expected. This would be a levy on banks’ liabilities and would provide a fund that governments could use to finance any future bailouts. It would be worth around $1500bn: some 2.5% of world GDP, and a higher percentage than that for countries, such as the UK, with a large banking sector.
The second was more surprising to commentators. This would be a financial activities tax (FAT). This would essentially be a tax on the value added by banks, and hence would be a way of taxing profits and pay. Currently, for technical reasons, many of banks’ activities are exempt from VAT (or the equivalent tax in countries outside the EU). The IMF thus regards them as under-taxed relative to other sectors. If such a tax were levied at a rate of 17.5% (the current rate of VAT in the UK), this could raise over 1% of GDP. In the UK this could be as much as £20bn – which would make a substantial contribution to reducing the government’s structural deficit of around £100bn
Meanwhile, in the USA, President Obama has been seeking to push legislation through Congress that would tighten up the regulation of banks. On 20 May, the Senate passed the bill, which now has to be merged with a version in the House of Representatives to become law. A key part of the measures involve splitting off the trading activities of banks in derivatives and other instruments from banks’ regular retail lending and deposit-taking activities with the public and firms. At the same time, there would be much closer regulation of the derivatives market. These complex financial instruments, whose value is ‘derived’ from the value of other assets, would have to be traded in an open market, not in private deals. A new financial regulatory agency will be created with the Federal Reserve having regulatory oversight of the whole of the financial markets
The measures would also give the government the power to break up financial institutions that were failing and rescue solvent parts without having to resort to a full-scale bailout. There is also a proposal to set up a nine-member Council of Regulators to keep a close watch on banking activities and to identify excessive risks. Banks would also be more closely supervised.
So is this payback time for banks? Or will higher taxes simply be passed on to customers, with pay and bonuses remaining at staggering levels? And will tougher regulation simply see ingenious methods being invented of getting round the regulation? Will the measures reduce moral hazard, or is the genie out of the bottle, with banks knowing that they will always be seen as too important to fail?
Press Briefing by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn IMF Webcasts (22/4/10)
Transcript of the above Press Briefing
The IMF tax proposals
IMF proposes two taxes for world’s banks Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (21/4/10)
IMF gets tough on banks with ‘FAT’ levy Guardian, Linda Yueh (21/4/10)
Q&A: IMF proposals to shape G20 thinking Financial Times, Brooke Masters (21/4/10)
The challenge of halting the financial doomsday machine Financial Times, Martin Wolf (20/4/10)
IMF’s ‘punishment tax’ draws fire from banking industry Financial Times, Sharlene Goff, Brooke Masters and Scheherazade Daneshkhu (21/4/10)
Squeezing the piggy-banks Economist (21/4/10)
IMF, part two Economist, ‘Buttonwood’ (21/4/10)
IMF proposes tax on financial industry as economic safeguard Washington Post, Howard Schneider (20/4/10)
IMF wants two big new taxes on banks BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/4/10)
Obama pleas for Wall Street support on reforms Channel 4 News, Job Rabkin (22/4/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank regulation aims BBC News (22/4/10)
US banks may not bend to Barack Obama’s demands Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/4/10)
President Obama attacks critics of bank reform bill BBC News (23/4/10)
US Senate passes biggest overhaul of big banks since Depression Telegraph (21/5/10)
Finance-Overhaul Bill Would Reshape Wall Street, Washington Bloomberg Businessweek (21/5/10)
US Senate approves sweeping reforms of Wall Street (including video) BBC News (21/5/10)
Obama gets his big bank reforms BBC News blogs: Pestons’s Picks, Robert Peston (21/5/10)
- What would be the incentive effects on bank behaviour of the two taxes proposed by the IMF?
- What is meant by ‘moral hazard’ in the context of bank bailouts? Would (a) the IMF proposals and (b) President Obama’s proposals increase or decrease moral hazard?
- Why may the proposed FAT tax simply generate revenue rather than deter excessive risk-taking behaviour?
- What market conditions (a) encourage and (b) discourage large pay and bonuses of bankers? Will any of the proposals change these market conditions?
- What do you understand by the meaning of ‘excess profits’ in the context of the banks and what are the sources of such excess profits?
- Criticise the proposed IMF and US measures from the perspective of the banks.
With banks around the world revealing massive profits and huge bonuses, governments are getting increasingly uneasy that their bailouts have lined the pockets of bank executives. Not surprisingly voters are demanding that bankers should not be rewarded for their reckless behaviour. After all, it was taxpayers’ money that prevented many banks going bankrupt during the credit crunch.
Banks, of course, seek to justify the bonuses. If you don’t pay large bonuses, they maintain, then senior staff will leave and profits will suffer. It’s nothing to do with ‘morality’, they claim. It’s the market. ‘If you don’t pay the market rate, then executives will leave and take higher-paid jobs elsewhere.’
So are governments calling this bluff? In his pre-Budget report in December, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced a 50% tax on bank bonuses over £25,000. This was followed by an announcement by Nicholas Sarkozy that the French government would impose a similar 50% tax on bonuses over €27,500.
Then in mid January, President Obama proposed a tax on financial institutions with balance sheets above $50 billion. This would be levied at a rate of 0.15 percent of certain assets. But this was not a tax on bank bonuses, as favoured by the British and French governments, nor a tax on financial transactions – a type of Tobin tax – as favoured by Angela Merkel (see Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing). Nevertheless, it was another way of recouping for the taxpayer some of the money used to rescue banks and prevent a banking collapse.
So is this payback time for bankers, or will it simply be bank shareholders that suffer? And why can banks pay such large bonuses in the face of so much public hostility? The following articles explore the issues.
To leave or not to leave: the supertax question Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Kate Burgess (9/1/10)
French tax to raise €360m Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Ben Hall (13/1/10)
Oversized bank bonuses: classic case of overcharging The Business Times (Singapore), Anthony Rowley (15/1/10)
Obama vows to recoup ‘every dime’ taxpayers lent banks Belfast Telegraph (15/1/10)
Obama outlines $117bn bank levy (including video) BBC News (14/1/10)
Obama lays out his proposal to tax big US banks Sydney Morning Herald, Jackie Calmes (16/1/10)
Obama’s bank tax will only work if there’s a master plan in place Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (14/1/10)
Turning the tables The Economist (14/1/10)
Obama’s bigger rod for banks BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (14/1/10)
Will Obama’s tax go global? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (15/1/10)
Darling: I won’t do an Obama and tax the banks Scotsman, Eddie Barnes (16/1/10)
Obama tax is only the beginning of the banking Blitz Telegraph, Edmund Conway (15/1/10)
Bank taxes edge closer to the real target Guardian, Dan Roberts (15/1/10)
- Compare the incentive effects on bankers of the British, French and US measures discussed in the articles.
- Why does the ‘market’ result in high bank bonuses? Where does economic power lie in the market?
- Assume that you hold shares in Bank A. Would you welcome (a) high bonuses for executives of Bank A; (b) a tax on bank bonuses; (c) a ceiling on bank bonuses; (d) a tax on certain bank assets? Explain.
- What insights can game theory provide for the likely success in clawing back bank bonuses without doing damage to the economy?
- Consider whether Obama’s tax will “go global”.