Royal Bank of Scotland to pay record bonuses of up to £5m
From The Sunday Times
THE state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland is planning to hand out record bonuses of up to £5m each in a snub to struggling taxpayers.
The average employee in its high-risk investment banking arm is likely to take home £240,000, with the top 20 staff in line for payments of between £1m and £5m.
The payouts by the investment banking division — from a total pay and bonus pot of £4 billion — would top the deals awarded at the peak of the financial boom in 2007 and are 66% higher than those paid last year.
RBS, then headed by Sir Fred Goodwin, had to be rescued from collapse by the Treasury last October with an initial injection of £20 billion. The taxpayer now has a 70% stake in the bank.
Any suggestion of bumper bonuses will put RBS on a collision course with UK Financial Investments, which oversees taxpayers’ investments in banks. It would have to approve the payments.
The RBS plans are the latest sign that the bonus culture is returning to the City just a year after the financial system was saved from collapse. The banks that have survived the financial crisis are now making huge profits in areas such as debt and currency trading, where instability in the global economy has created opportunities.
Some traders in specialised areas are making bigger profits than before because of the chaos created by the collapse. After a series of forced mergers, there are also fewer competitors in a number of areas, allowing the banks to charge clients higher fees.
RBS is expected to lobby hard to be allowed to make the payments, claiming that dozens of its top performing executives have been poached by rivals offering even bigger pay deals. Almost a third of the bank’s wealth management staff in Singapore walked out last week over fears they would receive lower than expected bonuses.
The bank has already provoked anger over a bonus package of nearly £10m for Stephen Hester, its chief executive, which he will earn if he turns round the bank. Hester has said in recent interviews that even his parents think he is paid too much.
The bank has also come under fire over recent “golden hello” deals. It offered an estimated £7m to Antonio Polverino, a bond trader; while Brian Hartzer, recently recruited to head the bank’s network of branches, was handed 1.99m shares as part of his sign-on deal — worth about £1m at current share prices.
Paul Myners, the City minister, has written to the boards of all the banks operating in Britain and reminded them that they should hold on to their cash to build up reserves, rather than hand it over to their executives and traders.
There were claims last night that some cabinet ministers wanted a “windfall” tax on bank profits. However, the Treasury is resisting any move that might damage the health of the financial sector at a time when banks are still struggling to rebuild their balance sheets.
Lloyds Banking Group, which is 43% owned by taxpayers, has been working on plans for a multi-million-pound incentive programme for its top managers.
Barclays, which has not received direct state support, is expected to post record profits of about £10 billion this year, leaving senior executives including Bob Diamond, head of Barclays Capital, the group’s investment banking arm, in line for multi-million-pound bonuses. Barclays Capital, which took over the remains of Lehman Brothers in the US, is expected to see its profits soar.
Last week Goldman Sachs, the American bank, which employs 5,500 people in London, announced that its staff would share about £13 billion in pay and bonuses. Its senior partners in London, such as Michael Sherwood, the vice-chairman, could be in line for payments running to tens of millions of pounds.
The record payouts across the City come despite political pledges to clamp down on bankers’ pay, drafted at meetings of the G20 countries in both London and Pittsburgh this year.
Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said: “The masters of the universe in investment banking are taking away lorryloads of loot because they are the last men standing. They have a virtual monopoly, partly because governments chose to save some banks and let others fall . . . It’s survival of the fattest.”
He added: “All this raises serious issues about competition and monopolies. The government must get a grip and look at this now — and not hide behind G20 principles which are mushy and meaningless.”
None of the banks will decide final bonus payouts until the end of the year at the earliest, but the US banks have already set aside large sums to make the payments.
JP Morgan Chase revealed last week that it was preparing to pay almost £18 billion to cover salaries and bonuses for its staff, after posting profits of £2.2 billion for the past three months.
Even banks that have lost money are believed to be considering enormous payouts to some of their senior investment bankers. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which revealed a quarterly loss of more than £600m last week, is believed to be preparing to make big bonus payouts to staff in its London operations.