Five 'smart' employees beat bank's chairman to the big cash bonanza

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The Independent Online

HSBC paid one employee nearly £13m last year and four others received between £4m and £10m each. The bumper pay-outs were revealed as HSBC unveiled the largest pre-tax profits ever scooped in a year by a British bank, of $14.4bn (£7.7bn), up 37 per cent on 2002.

Sir John Bond, HSBC's chairman, took home £2.15m in pay and bonuses for leading the group to record profits, a 14 per cent increase on the previous year. Sir John also collected a further £2.1m from a long-term incentive plan.

Renowned as the City's most parsimonious financier, Sir John declared he was not "jealous" of the five unnamed members of his workforce - who work in HSBC's investment bank and fund management business - who trounced him in the pay stakes.

"I do not have the smarts to do what they do. They are probably more valuable to our shareholders than I am," Sir John said. He also hit out at allegations that HSBC's earnings were another example of "excess profits" that consumer groups have accused Britain's major high street banks of coining in at the expense of their customers.

Pointing out that HSBC made only £70 in profits for each of its personal customers for the whole of 2003, Sir John denied that its products confused customers. "We do everything we can not to do that, though I am quite certain we can do better," he said.

Under disclosure regulations in Hong Kong, where HSBC is also listed, companies have to declare their top five earners below board level, although they do not have to reveal their identities.

The lucky few at HSBC could include John Studzinski, the star banker who joined from Morgan Stanley in June last year to jointly head HSBC's investment bank, and its other co-head, Stuart Gulliver.

HSBC, which is trying to beef up its investment bank, also revealed that it paid £5.6m in "golden hellos" to persuade a number of high-flying bankers to join.

Mr Studzinski - known as Studs - is radically overhauling HSBC's existing corporate banking business.

This has included slashing the number of people working in its investment bank, from 2,700 to 1,050, in a move which has caused considerable unrest among HSBC's staff. Yesterday Mr Studzinski said he would cut the headcount to 800. Including equities research, the workforce in this division will be 1,000.

HSBC, which wants to boost its investment bank so that it can take on more mighty Wall Street rivals, plans to offer research in six areas, including telecoms and financial services, rather than attempting to cover every company.