OUTLOOK: Bankers still having their cake and eating it
James Moore is the Independent's Associate Business Editor and writes the Outlook City comment column from Tuesday to Friday. He also has a keen interest in disability issues and when not attempting to further injure himself playing wheelchair basketball.
Tuesday 11 February 2014
“It is the decision of the board and myself that this entirely is the right decision for the group and in the long-term interests of shareholders.”
We’ve seen this sort of statement deployed by executives on countless occasions to justify countless decisions that turn out to be anything but in the interests of shareholders, long term, short term or any term you care to mention.
Barclays Antony Jenkins was using it to justify the decision to pay bigger bonuses to his investment bankers despite the profits they generate having fallen.
Mr Jenkins claimed that Barclays needs to hire the “best people” from San Francisco to Singapore. To do that, he argued, it had to pay up, heedless of the fact that those profits took a dip.
is it worth mentioning here that one of the arguments against the EU’s banking bonus cap is that it destroys banks’ ability to adjust variable pay (or bonuses) down when times are tough or when banks aren’t performing?
If bonuses aren’t going to be adjusted downwards when things haven’t gone all that well the Government may just as well drop its lawsuit against the cap and save the taxpayer some legal fees.
What should worry those with an interest in Barclays’ future is just how similar his statement was to the sort of things his predecessor Bob Diamond used to say before the Libor scandal cost him his job.
The question neither appeared prepared to ask is whether the investment banking business is worth shareholders’ while in the first place given the escalating costs and risks.
It seems that in banks, at least those heavily involved in investment banking, there are two classes of shareholder.
There are the pension funds, small investors and other institutions that put up capital for banks to carry out their business and which are diluted when bonus time comes around and vast swathes of free shares are doled out.
And there are the bankers who receive those free shares as part of their bonuses, and then cash them as soon as they are able to “diversify”.
The discrepancy between the two can be demonstrated by the fact that Barclays paid three times the amount in bonuses to what it paid to its shareholders in dividends. Now you know whose “long term interests” come first.
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