Politicians the world over have huffed and puffed about excessive pay at banks since 2008. While remuneration curbs were put in place, nothing fundamentally challenged bank operations, or their ultimate flexibility to reward staff. The European Parliament has bucked that trend with the mother of all bonus clampdowns. Here are five key questions on the cap: how it works, how you can avoid it, whether it will really pass and what it means for Britain and the City.
1. How is the cap calculated and applied?
The bonus text runs to just half a side of A4. The core measure is a mandatory 1:1 ratio on fixed/variable pay is applied to all EU banks and subsidiaries around the world, as well as non-EU banks operating in Europe. This ratio can rise to 2:1 with a 66 per cent shareholder vote, with a quorum of more than 50 per cent. If turnout is lower, the majority must be 75 per cent. Up to a quarter of the variable pay can be paid in long term instruments (deferred for more than five years), which track the health of a bank and can be clawed back. The value is discounted at a rate set by the European Banking Authority, which must take account of inflation and risk. Some details still need to be fleshed out. But MEPs predicted that even with the discount the maximum ratio would be closer to 2:1 than 3:1.
2. Are there any loopholes?
There are always loopholes. The question is whether it would make a material difference and allow banks to operate relatively unscathed. The obvious one is just raising fixed pay, but it has obvious shortcomings. The incentives for long term pay within the cap will likely be aggressively used. But even with the most banker-friendly discount rate calculation the ratio will not move much above 3:1. Other points of vulnerability could be the definition of fixed pay: could some of that effectively be a bonus? How the rules apply outside the EU and to non-EU institutions will also be important in determining whether bankers can be shuffled around the world to avoid the restrictions. Finally there is talk of some banks taking legal action against the provisions, but there will surely be a public relations downside to that.