Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The great bankers' bonuses lie

Apologists for the banks - including Barclays head Bob Diamond in front of the Treasury Select Committee - claim that bankers' bonuses are awarded for "performance".  A piece in today's Independent by Ben Chu examines this proposition.

He references a table in the 2010 Barclays remuneration report showing the Total Shareholder Return since 2005:

In other words, £100 invested at the end of 2005 would be worth £53 against an overall FTSE average of £125.  It inevitably begs the question of exactly how Diamond justifies his £6.5 million bonus to shareholders whose investment has collapsed so dramatically in value.

And Diamond is not alone.  The Independent has looked at the performance of the other British high-street banks and has produced this table:

And concludes:

So if you’d invested £100 in HSBC in 2006 you would have, roughly, a £90 return.  Barclays, on this timeframe, would have given you around £65. £100 in Lloyds would have given you a measly £25. And £100 in RBS would have given you a pathetic £12. Meanwhile, £100 invested in an FTSE all share tracker would have given you a positive return of about £105
So here’s a question for shareholders: Are  you satisfied that those vast remuneration packages for bankers of recent years have been an appropriate reward for performance? 
The British establishment is not known for introspection, so those questions are probably not being asked.  They're certainly not being asked by the British government; despite a promise in opposition that no employee of a bank that had been bailed out by the taxpayer would receive a bonus of more than £2000. in Government the Tories have rolled over.  No wonder, since the financial sector bankrolls the Conservative Party.

So next time somebody says that bonuses reward performances, the honest answer is that they may reward greed and an inflated sense of entitlement, but if pay in the financial sector rewarded performance it would be the bankers rather than nurses and teachers who would be looking at pay cuts.

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