Heads of state are responding to the widespread public outcry over the perception of excessive compensation in the banking industry. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy is leading the way with strict new bonus rules.
In Australia bank executives stand to lose more than $50 million in annual bonuses if the current government bans short-term incentive payments in the financial services sector. This is a reiteration of the G20 meeting in April, where leaders called for curbs on bonuses.
However, if restrictions on bonuses in the financial services sector are to mean anything they will have to be agreed upon internationally and this is very unlikely.
Politicians are trying to win political favor by taking advantage of prevailing anti-banking sentiments. They know full well that their feigned indignation will not forge an international agreement to curb bankers pay. To illustrate the point, Sarkozy’s promise of tough regulations comes with the all important caveat that they not be enforced without global agreement.
Dutch banks have also introduced a new code of conduct that includes capping executive bonuses. However, this new Dutch approach does not force banks to curb bonuses nor does it come with legal sanctions as banks need only explain why they have chosen not to comply.
As British finance minister Alstair Darling said last Thursday, “Banks need to be responsible about pay and bonuses and one of the things that is concerning me is that when you tackle banks about this they say that if you do something here, the Americans, the Swiss, or the French … will poach our people.”
Even in the unlikely event that legislation is passed in both the EU, and the US, there will always be nations without such stringent sanctions and these countries will claim the most talented people.
“Government has got a legitimate interest in making sure that you don’t encourage behaviour that is damaging, but I think that is just one part of what we need to do to get the banking system going again,” Darling said. “There is a generalised concern. What we need to do is make sure that we introduce legislation that actually works, that actually helps and strengthen our banking system,” he concluded.
Regulation is required to limit excessively risky lending, and many see merit in employing other regulatory channels beyond legislation. Last week in Britain the financial regulator known as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) published a bankers’ pay code and according to the British finance minister, the FSA is “the obvious vehicle to use.”
These kinds of capital rules will hurt banks’ profits and restrict their lending ability. Efforts to curb banker bonuses are a ruse. As Lord Turner pointed out, “insisting that someone ‘does something’ about bonuses is a populist diversion.”
COP 15 is now only 3 months away, and while political rhetoric scores points with a disgruntled public, it siphons energy away from the tremendous efforts required to find consensus on climate change. Instead of pandering to voters by pretending to curb bankers pay, world leaders should be working towards real consensus on climate change.
G20 and Developing World Disagree on Climate Change
G20 Lays the Foundation for a Better World
G20 Protestors Dilute Green Message
G8’s More Aggressive GHG Targets
COP 15 Implications for Business
COP 15 Timetable
United Nations Climate Change Conference
US Green Legislation
Market Based Social Change