Ben Chu: Time to scotch the myth around bankers' bonuses

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The Independent Online

I was pleased to hear the City grandee lawyer Anthony Salz, right, in his independent review of Barclays' corporate culture last week, echo a point that I've been making for some time about bankers' pay.

"Across the investment banking industry, and Barclays in particular, compensation has been much more variable upward in response to good performance than downward in response to poor performance" he wrote. "Consequently compensation at the investment bank [Barclays Capital] as a percentage of pre-compensation profit before tax increased from 50 per cent to 62 per cent between 2009 and 2011, dropping to 53 per cent in 2012".

The implication is that the claims we hear from banks that employees' pay goes up and down with the performance of the institution are hogwash. Far from being something that rises and falls with a bank's profitability, bankers' pay is more like a one-way ratchet. In the good times, remuneration spikes. In the bad times it is, at worst, flat.

What a shame, then, to see that Salz, elsewhere in the report, parrots the dreary mantra that the EU's cap on bonuses at between 100 and 200 per cent of salary will result in upward pressure on fixed pay and "make it harder to reduce costs when business experiences a downturn".

Salz should have read his own report more carefully. The idea that banks have these ultra-flexible cost bases because of the special way they structure the pay of their employees is a myth. The bonus cap will not make it "harder" to reduce costs in a downturn, because those costs are already pretty much fixed in stone.