It is only sticks and stones that break bones, so the saying goes, but names surely do hurt. So much so that it is apparently worth £1m in shares to Stephen Hester to get the tormentors who have been calling him nasty ones to belt up.
"A personal decision," was the explanation from RBS's army of spin-doctors (there are more than 40, plus agencies) for Mr Hester giving up his bonus, just before they replaced their tin hats and retired to their bunkers.
That is where they will have found the remainder of the RBS directors, who have largely remained mute while the scandal engulfed Mr Hester and he became media and political bogeyman of the week. I have already noted the fact that RBS's chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, has been doing a marvellous impersonation of the invisible man of British banking during this saga. Perhaps he thinks passing on his own payout (of about £1.4m) gives him the right to do so.
There has been no such altruism from the members of the RBS remuneration committee, who are responsible for setting and overseeing pay awards. If the spin-doctors and Sir Philip have been hard to find, Penny Hughes, John McFarlane, Alison Davis, and Sir Sandy Crombie have been hiding in another dimension (although perhaps we can award the latter a pass, given that he voluntarily gave up £500,000 in 2004 when the company he was then running, Standard Life, was on its knees).
Poor Mr Hester. He has been left to face the wolves on his own on this one. No wonder the company's shares hit the skids yesterday. Those RBS directors probably hope this will end the matter (for now). It shouldn't.
For a start, it has always seemeda bit rich that only chief executives of banks are required to give up their unconscionable bonuses. What about the other senior RBS executives? Right now the likes of the finance director, Bruce Van Saun, and its investment banking chief, John Hourican, will be looking excitedly at their rapidly-expanding shares portfolios.
These portfolios could yet pay out hugely when their owners finally get access to the stock in two or three years' time, given the fact that RBS's shares are undervalued by almost any measure you care to look at – largely because of investors' fears about the eurozone and its impact on the banking sector.
Then there is the bank's "long-term incentive plan", yet another bonus scheme in which all three men will be participating. According to the Bank of England's Robert Jenkins, the combined annual bonus payments which Mr Hester and Sir Philip have given up (£2.4m) would be enough to back £48m of loans to small businesses. Another £10bn would be available for lending from the £500m or so that RBS plans to pay its investment bankers.
This is something to think about in an economy that is in part being strangled by a lack of credit.
- More about:
- P Funk