Life must be very hard for bankers in the UK. Not only are they being partly blamed for the current financial crisis, but they may now have to survive on just their salary. Imagine trying to have a happy Christmas when you’ve only earned £200,000 over the past year: it really will be a cold and hard Christmas for them. Unless of course, the government does call the bluff of the RBS directors who have threatened to quit if an estimated £1.5bn bonus pool for staff at the investment arm of the bank is blocked. Let’s not forget that RBS is largely owned by the public: 70% or an investment of £53.5bn. It’s our taxes that will be used to pay these bonuses giving 20,000 RBS bankers a salary that is at least 3 times greater than the national average.
RBS directors have threatened a mass walkout if the government does withhold the ‘competitive bonus package’. Given that many blame bank directors for plunging us into the credit crunch, some may laugh at their argument that if the bonus package is withheld, then ‘top talent will leave the bank’. However, it is a serious threat: pay out or we leave and you’ll see the profitability of the bank decline, making it less likely that taxpayers will see a ‘return’ on their investment. RBS needs to make profits to repay the taxpayer, but is the taxpayer willing to pay out? RBS directors argue that if its bankers do not receive bonuses, then RBS will lose out in recruiting the best talent. Why would a banker choose to work for a bank that doesn’t pay out bonuses?
Lord Mandelson said: “I understand the point that RBS directors are expressing – they say they have to remain competitive in the market in recruiting senior executives, and this is why it’s important that all the banks are equally restrained, and RBS is not singled out.” One solution here would be a one-off windfall tax on bonuses, or even a permanently higher rate of tax (a ‘supertax’) on bonuses.
Over the past year or so, not a day has gone by when banks are not in the news and the next few days look to be no exception. This is another issue that affects everyone, so read the articles below and make up your mind! The government has an important decision to make, especially given than it’s the taxpayers who will decide on the next government.
‘Bankers need to join the real world’ minister says BBC News (3/12/09)
UK seeks to calm fears of RBS walk-out over bonuses Reuters, (3/12/09)
RBS chief Stephen Hester set to walkout over bonus row Scotsman, Nathalie Thomas (3/12/09)
RBS directors threaten to quit over bonuses Big On News (3/12/09)
Thousands of Bankers paid £1m in bonuses Sky News (3/11/09)
Barclays bankers to get 150pc pay rise Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun and Philip Aldrick (3/12/09)
PM reacts to RBS Director’s threat ITN (3/12/09)
Banks criticise plans for windfall tax on bonuses BBC News (7/12/09)
Will biffing bankers also biff Britain? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (3/12/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)
- How are wages determined in the labour market? Use a diagram to illustrate this.
- Why do bankers receive such a high salary? (Think about elasticity.)
- What are the main arguments for paying out bonuses to bankers?
- If bonuses were blocked, and the RBS directors did walk out, what do you think would be the likely repercussions? Who would suffer?
- One argument for paying bonuses is that bankers need an incentive. Excluding monetary benefits, are there any other methods that could be used to increase their productivity?
- When we consider the labour market, we look at economic power. Who do you think has the power in this case and what do you think will be the outcome?