The problem with banks and the financial sector is that we need them. Who knows what might have happened if the government hadn’t stepped in to bail out the banks. And that’s one of the key arguments for continuing to pay bankers’ bonuses. If they left their jobs and the banks ceased to exist, we’d be looking at a very bleak future.
The truth is: ‘we need them’ and, what’s worse, they know it. As Frank Skinner said in a Times article: ‘during the crisis bankers will be thinking, “Don’t panic. The public have got short memories. Show them the slightest hint of recovery and most of them will forget their moral indignation and we can start where we left off – making the biggest splashes we can and not worrying about the ripples” ‘.
Despite the argument for continuing to pay out bonuses, a large proportion of the public are understandably angry that bankers are still receiving enormous bonuses. Not only are banks and the financial sector largely responsible for the current recession, but it is taxpayers who have bailed them out and who now pay their bonuses. However, things could be about to change.
The FSA is set to get powers, allowing it to ‘tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts, especially for those taking reckless risks that threaten the stability of the financial sector. The new regulations will be found in the Financial Services Bill, which, if approved by Parliament, will apply to all British banks, as well as the British subsidiaries of overseas banks operating in the UK. Multi-million pound payments will be able to be blocked and fines will be imposed on banks who offer unjustified ‘mega-bucks pay-outs’.
Despite this impending regulation, not everyone thinks it will be successful. Sir George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS, has said that interfering with bankers’ contracts is a ‘dangerous route to go down’. Read the following articles that consider this contentious issue.
Bankers bonuses’ ‘will soar to £6bn’ after government bailouts and rising profits Times Online, Katherine Griffiths (21/10/09)
Bonus crackdown plans dangerous BBC News (16/11/09)
Financial regulation ‘has broken down’ BBC Today Programme (16/11/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)
FSA to get powers to tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts Citywire, Nicholas Paler (16/11/09)
It’ll be tough for bankers on a £200k bonus Times Online, Frank Skinner (13/11/09)
Prince Andrew defends bankers’ bonuses even as economy stays mired in recession Mail Online, Kate Loveys (24/10/09)
Curb on bankers’ bonuses to be unveiled in Queens’ speech Mail Online (13/11/09)
Bankers warn laws on pay and bonuses will scare off talent Telegraph Angela Monaghan (13/11/09)
Labour to overturn bonus deals at risk-taking banks Guardian Patrick Wintour (13/11/09)
Banking on the State Guardian (17/11/09)
Queen outlines new banking laws BBC News (18/11/09)
Queen’s Speech: what the Financial Bill really means for bankers’ bonuses Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (18/11/09)
Brown Puts Deficit Curbs, Bonus Limits on U.K. Agenda Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Thomas Penny (18/11/09)
Queen’s speech 2009: financial services bill Guardian, Jill Treanor (18/11/09)
- What is meant by ‘regulation’ and what forms does it take?
- Why are banks and the financial services largely blamed for the current recession? Will financial regulation of bonuses prevent a repeat of the current crisis?
- What are the arguments for and against further regulation? Why does the former Chairman of RBS argue that cracking down on bonuses could be ‘dangerous’? Do you agree?
- Why are bankers paid so much? How is the equilibrium wage rate determined in this sector?
- Should bankers receive bonuses? Think about the incentive effect; the effect on productivity. What are the possible consequences for those working in banking of bonuses being reduced and possibly removed if they are deemed to threaten financial stability?
“100 leading progressive figures from across the centre-left, civil society and from all corners of the UK, have today called on the government to establish a High Pay Commission to curb excessive pay.” So begins the press release from the pressure group, Compass. Calls for restraint on high pay are hardly surprising at a time of recession and falling profits. Many banks are still paying large bonuses to top executives, despite some of the banks having to be rescued by the government. Other firms too are still rewarding their senior executives with huge bonuses despite poor performance.
But are the members of Compass right to say that “the unjust rewards of a few hundred ‘masters of the universe’ exacerbated the risks we were all exposed to many times over” and that “a High Pay Commission is needed to deliver a fairer, more stable and sustainable economy for the future”? The following linked articles look at the issues.
Coalition calls on government to regulate high pay Guardian (17/8/09)
Think tank Compass says ‘masters of universe’ must be reigned in Telegraph (17/8/09)
The Big Question: Should there be a commission into high pay, and how would it operate? Independent (18/8/09)
Darling dismisses pay commission BBC news (17/8/09) (see also video)
Demands for ‘high commission’ to cut pay and bonuses of executives Scotsman (18/8/09)
It is time for action on excessive pay Guardian (17/8/09)
Top executives pocket huge bonuses despite recession Independent (518/8/09)
Investor group ABI wants guaranteed bonuses stopped Guardian (17/8/09)
It’s an unequal struggle to rein in those with the most The Herald (18/8/09)
Would a High Pay Commission solve inequality? Management Today (17/8/09)
Bankers’ pay: Coining it in Guardian (18/8/09)
Will Britain’s second dose of anti-bonus fever have a useful payoff? Telegraph (17/8/09)
Merit Pay Times Online (17/8/09)
- What are the arguments for and against establishing a High Pay Commission?
- To what extent are the rewards of senior executives a reflection of their marginal productivity?
- Discuss the extent to which the bonus system could be redesigned to align the incentives of such a system to the long-term performance of the company.
The large bonuses received by bankers, often amounting to more than a million pounds, have been contentious for many years. With the banking crisis and subsequent recession, and with both public and government outrage at the size of the bonuses, many thought that the days of such bonuses were over. But such is not the case. “There has been public disquiet that leading banks – which have been seen as a major cause of the financial crisis – have been receiving taxpayer funds, but are not prepared to change their traditional culture of awarding big bonuses to key staff.”
The following articles look at what has been happening to senior bankers’ remuneration in recent months. But what are the market conditions that allow such rewards to continue? Are they a reflection of the marginal productivity of bankers or of their market power, or what?
RBS to keep paying bonuses despite 1bn first-half loss Telegraph (7/8/09)
Lloyds chief plans bonuses for ‘spectacular job’ in making £4bn loss Telegraph (6/8/09)
CS toxic bonuses are up 17%, but gains can’t be realised for four years eFinancial Careers (7/8/09)
Banks: Look, don’t touch Guardian (8/8/09)
Analysis: The plan’s the thing Times Online (7/8/09)
Cutting our bonuses would hit the taxpayer, says RBS Citywire (7/8/09)
France targets bankers’ bonuses BBC News (7/8/09)
Sarkozy weighs into debate over banker bonuses after BNP Paribas compensation sparks anger Los Angeles Times (7/8/09)
Knotting the purse-strings The Economist (6/8/09)
Pay and politics The Economist (6/8/09)
- Explain why many senior bankers have continued to receive huge bonuses. To what extent is oligopoly theory relevant to your explanation?
- To what extent do the size of the bonuses reflect senior bankers’ contributions to (a) the productivity and (b) the profits of their bank?
- If bankers are to be paid bonuses, what is the best form for these bonuses to take? Consider the incentive effects in your answer.
- Should bankers’ bonuses be regulated and, if so, what criteria should regulators use for determining the acceptable size of bonuses?