‘We need a pay rise’ bankers demand

Clampdown on bonuses sparks City calls for 10 per cent increase in salaries

By Mathieu Robbins
Tuesday 24 February 2009 01:00

Senior City bankers are demanding pay rises of up to 10 per cent this year to make up for the clampdown on the bonus culture, a senior City head-hunter has told The Independent.

Shaun Springer, chief executive of Napier Scott, which specialises in recruiting senior bankers for posts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said bankers were attempting to rebalance their financial packages in favour of higher salaries. And he predicted that, over the next few years, city salaries could more than double to compensate investment bankers.

“Base salaries are being increased by somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent, by rule of thumb, to compensate for an overall fall in the remunerative package,” said Mr Springer.

“This is being done in recognition of perhaps a long-term change, in which one can envisage basic salaries in the long term doubling or tripling or quadrupling compared to where they are today and bonuses falling by as much as 80 per cent.”

“People used to, say, earn between £100,000 and £150,000 and receive bonuses of 10 times multiples of their base salary,” he continued. “But a trend is now developing where someone has a basic pay of, say, £300,000 but with bonus multiple of only two or three times that.”

His comments expose the prevailing view in the City that bonuses are no longer about rewarding exceptional performance but have become an integral part of bankers’ financial reward packages and came on the day it emerged that Northern Rock will pay bonuses to about 100 top executives despite the nationalised bank losing £1.4bn in 2008.

Yesterday the bank also warned that the number of mortgage customers getting into difficulties was increasing rapidly, and confirmed it would shortly re-enter the mortgage market, increasing its lending by £14bn over the next two years.

The bank said leading executives “who are important to the company’s future” would be given a deferred bonus to be paid in 2010. Another 400 more junior managers will get a deferred bonus worth about 10 per cent of their salary.

Mr Springer’s comments were backed up by other senior City figures.

“Base salaries at investment banks across the board will have to rise to compensate people for the falls in bonuses they have seen,” said one senior corporate finance investment banker.

Banks across the Square Mile have seen their bonuses fall by about half this year as profits – where any were made – have dwindled and regulators have started to crack down on the pay awards handed out to banks.

Average weekly earnings across the UK economy rose by just 2.1 per cent in the year through December, according to data from the Office of National Statistics. That is below inflation.

But on the high street, Royal Bank of Scotland has already raised its employees’ salaries by 10 per cent this year after failing to pay them their guaranteed bonuses for 2008.

Still, there is a fear among banks that pushing up base pay too much too fast may be counterproductive and actually create a regulatory backlash, especially with a large number of Europe’s banks now partly owned by governments after having had bailouts.

“There is a general acceptance that [base] salaries will go up,” said an employee at a European bank that needed a bailout from its government. “But there is still too much political pressure, and we don’t want people to think we are replacing bonuses through the back door – there is a delicate balance.”

But Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said it would be “completely perverse” to award bankers salary increases.

He said: “The laws of supply and demand suggest that this is completely perverse, as there is a currently a considerable reduction in the demand for bankers as the sector contracts. If members of the financial services community are managing to pull the wool over the eyes of their shareholders, this suggests that the problems of governance in the sector are even deeper than we imagined. The continued ability of the semi-nationalised banks to put highly paid staff ahead of taxpayers shows that the Government has been far too detached and pathetic in its arms-length approach to them.”

George Mudie, a former Labour deputy chief whip and member of the Commons Treasury Committee, added: “It is indicative of the lack of shame in the industry for the trouble they have caused ordinary people – homes lost and jobs lost. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Treasury sources expressed surprise at the reports, insisting senior executives at Northern Rock and RBS had agreed to a pay freeze. But they made it clear ministers were unlikely to intervene in pay deals at banks which had not received government support.

The source said: “It’s not obvious why people would feel the need to go for a pay hike of 10 per cent, which would only increase the banks’ costs at a time when other banks in which the state has a stake are freezing pay.”

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary said: “Giving ordinary bank staff on low and middle incomes a bit more pay instead of the commission-based bonuses that encourage them to sell loans and other products would be a worthwhile step towards a better banking system.

“But top bankers must think the rest of us are daft if they think that no one will notice bonuses rebranded as basic salary. Government must impose tough conditions.”

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