Monday 3 August 2009

Bonus bonanza for shameless banks

While UK taxpayers were left with a £37bn tab to bail out the banks, several newspapers report today that those same banks are set to pay out up to £4bn in executive and staff bonuses.

Yesterday, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King suggested tougher banking regulation was still required and said that some bonuses being paid to executives were "absolutely astronomic" and could not be justified.

King said: "Executives at the top are earning vast sums, beyond the dreams of ordinary people, for doing a job which it's very hard to say justifies that kind of bonus. It is a form of compensation which rewards gamblers if they win - but with no loss if they lose."

King added that many banks had engaged in "wild risks for some considerable time," and they would need to be regulated "very carefully" in future to prevent another crisis that led to Britain to nationalise two banks, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, taking a majority stake in RBS and a 43% stake in Lloyds TSB.

Last week France's finance minister launched a stinging attack on banks who have begun offering guaranteed bonuses again despite their role in the financial crisis.

Christine Lagarde labelled the practice an "absolute disgrace" and urged fellow G20 governments to follow France in cracking down on bank executive pay.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Lagarde railed against a return to the old ways that led to huge losses and asset writedowns across the banking sector.

"I think it is an absolute disgrace that guaranteed bonuses of several years could still be paid, or that some people are thinking of reinstating the old ways of compensating with insufficient relationship between compensation and lasting performance and risk management," she said.

Guaranteed bonuses, which were typically offered when a bank wanted to retain valuable staff or lure them from a rival, have been blamed for contributing to the culture of excess that ended with the biggest banking crisis in generations.

In March, France imposed stringent restrictions on companies that have been bailed out by the state, which prevent banks from handing out stock options and other executive perks. Bonuses paid by French banks can also be clawed back if apparently profitable deals turn sour.

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