Thursday, March 24, 2011

You want to restrict bankers' pay

There has been and there still is much outrage about the large bonus payments bankers get. What the public does not understand is that bonus pay is a very large part of total pay, and it is so to encourage bankers to perform really well. And they certainly put in the hours. For example, bonus pay has been criticized because there is most often no "malus," but given that base pay is relatively low, this should capture it. The main criticism is aimed at the disparity of these bonus payments with respect to the average pay of a worker. This is, however, not something that should be regulated at the level of bonus pay, but through redistribution with income taxes. In this regard, whether it is regular pay or bonus pay makes no difference. So, should then bonus pay in banking be left unregulated?

John Thanassoulis does not think so. He argues that as bank compete for top bankers and try to shift the risk on them, they end up paying them too much and all in bonuses. This is optimal for the bank as it lowers its costs right when things get critical. But as a consequence, the bank gets too much into risky activities, as competition for bankers drives bonuses up higher than socially optimal, especially if there is a contagion risk of default for other banks. So you want a regulator to limit bonuses, but in a flexible way, or the benefit of having bonuses in the first place gets eroded. Indeed, it is the top brass that sets the bank level risk, whereas other employees all the way down to secretaries (who also get bonuses) are less influential, even collectively, on the aggregate risk. Thus the idea is not to cap bonuses individually, but at the bank level as a proportion of the balance sheet (which is what matters in terms of default). The pay structure would then presumably be readjusted by the bank, relying more on bonuses where it matters the most. Taxing bonuses has no risk impact, though, except for reducing bankers' pay.

Another possibility could be the dynamic incentive accounts I mentioned before.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Thanassoulis >>> David Hendry