Most of the big international banks are actively encouraging traders like Nick Leeson by granting the highest rewards to those who take the biggest risks, according to a study published today.
The pay of dealers and fund managers can, however, be designed to minimise the chance of big losses, the joint study by Cologne University and AMS, the management consultants, points out.
One way to lower the risks taken by individual employees is by granting bonuses in the form of share options that are not exercisable for four years or more. That would encourage traders to take a longer view of a company's profitability, Mark Rodrigues of AMS says.
Another method is by assessing the degree of risk taken in making profits. "A million dollars made by someone dealing in Deutschemarks would inevitably be based on a far lower risk than a million made by buying and selling the highly volatile Argentinian peso. At the moment most of the big banks don't differentiate between the risks taken," Mr Rodrigues says.
Mr Rodrigues argues that young dealers have little to lose when they take big positions in the derivatives market. "If they lose then the worst that can happen is they lose their job, which for a young person is no big deal. But if they are successful they can earn a million dollars." More than 80 per cent of dealers' earnings in the 17 banks in the survey came from bonuses.
Compared with their British counterparts, Continental banks tend to pay a bigger proportion of earnings in terms of a fixed salary. That can be another way of discouraging dealers from taking big risks, Mr Rodrigues says.