Barclays' bonus muddle

Barclays Bank sign

Here is an odd thing.

When I talk to Barclays' directors and also to regulators about how much that bank allocated to pay what it calls incentives - or bonuses, in most people's parlance - they say that the value of the incentive pool fell 18% to £2.5bn.

But that is not the picture presented in newspapers, or indeed what many investors and MPs believe happened.

They all point to a 10% rise in the so-called incentive pool, to just under £2.4bn.

And the typical reflection on the putative rise is that it is outrageous given that Barclays' pre-tax profits fell in 2013 almost a third to £5.2bn, on the measure preferred and cited by the bank.

What's more, Barclays is years from hitting its main investment target, namely to earn the cost of its equity, or the profits that it would have to generate to adequately compensate owners for the money they invest in the bank.

Last year its return on equity was 4.5%, which compares with the bank's estimate that its cost of equity is 10.5% - and, for what it's worth, some analysts calculate its cost of equity as higher still.

So for Barclays' critics, the bank gave higher rewards to its top people for an operating performance that was - at best - mediocre.

And that seems to corroborate the widespread view that banks are run for the benefit of its boss class rather than for the owners.

Not true, say members of Barclays board. Even regulators, who have become critics of the way that banks construct their remuneration, tell me Barclays has not been as rapacious in its pay practices as it is widely portrayed.

They insist that the number to look at is the incentive pool before adjustment for risk and bad behaviour, or the amount allocated for bonuses and incentives as a reward for the 2013 operating performance, but excluding penalties imposed as punishment for employees for the bank's sins in prior years.

Now this gross incentive pool, with no conduct or risk adjustment, was deliberately reduced by 18% to £2.5bn.

Arguably it was not cut enough, given that profits fell almost a third,

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Directors are fearful that the bank may be humiliated by shareholders when it comes to the annual vote on remuneration”

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And the bank puts its hand up, and says that lesser drop was deliberate.

Sir John Sunderland, the chairman of Barclays' remuneration committee, writes in the annual report that the "global resignation rate for senior staff in 2013 was significantly above that in 2012", and that departures of senior investment bankers in the US almost doubled - which is why he and his colleagues took a decision to pay what it deemed appropriate to "ensure the health of the franchise".

That translated into 481 Barclays employees earning more than £1m, up from 428 in the previous year, of which 274 are based in the US and 130 in the UK.

For those into "pay porn", 54 of Barclays' people earned between £2.5m and £5m, while eight earned more than £5m.

But if the gross bonus pool was cut, why precisely is the net bonus pool higher?

Well it was because the "risk and conduct" deductions for 2013 - largely penalties imposed on employees for mis-selling PPI credit insurance and interest-rate swaps - were just £290m, compared with deductions in the previous year of £860m (those bigger deductions were the self-imposed punishment for rigging Libor interest rate benchmarks).

A shorthand way of seeing this is that bonuses were down, but maluses (or negative bonuses) were down more - so the net bonus pot was expanded.

Where does this nuanced and complicated pay picture leave Barclays?

Well, directors are fearful that the bank may be humiliated by shareholders when it comes to the annual vote on remuneration, that there may be a large protest vote - even though they briefed influential investors on their pay plans before announcing them, and thought they had their acquiescence.

Anthony Jenkins Barclays' Anthony Jenkins - facing some existential questions?

Also two almost existential questions for Barclays - questions that will certainly determine whether the chief executive Antony Jenkins is deemed to be a success - remain largely unresolved.

First, what is the future of its very large US investment bank, if large Wall Street rivals feel less constrained in how, and how much, they pay their senior bankers? Can Barclays keep its talent, and if it can't, does that matter?

Second, how will Barclays make an adequate return for its shareholders without cutting its operating costs, of which two-thirds are what it pays its people?

To be clear, the rise in the net bonus pool of a couple of hundred million pounds, while of enormous symbolic power, was neither here nor there in a year when operating expenses rose from £18.6bn to £19.9bn.

What disappointed most of its investors most last year about Barclays was a failure to make significant cuts in the bank's overheads.

That failure was less about how much it pays each employee and was much more about how many people it employs.

It is not only the investors who take that view. So does a chunk of the board. The very big pressure on Antony Jenkins is to shrink by many thousands the number of Barclays employees.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    "We must never again be in a position of rewarding people for making the bank money in a way which is unethical or inconsistent with our values."
    - Anthony Jenkins 02/2013

    I'll give him 6 more months tops

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    @461 If Only
    "how many Bankers...who got it very wrong have been fired"

    don't some investment banks sack the bottom 5 or 10% every year to encourage the others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    @461 If Only
    "how many Bankers...who got it very wrong have been fired"

    Barclays fired 12000 just last week. That figure includes all of the under-performers from the investment side which they have got rid of , and whilst rewarding those that did well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.


    1) Acting in the interest of the fund IS acting in their own interest - if the fund does well, the fund manager gets a bigger bonus.

    2) Fund managers & investment bankers are NOT the same people - they are two distinctly different job functions.

    3) e.g. Barclays fund managers holding Barclays shares - it does occur but most fund managers work for separate companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Dr-Ads 455. " if you lose money you get fired "
    how many Bankers or mps who got it very wrong have been fired ?. Fred but what a golden handshake the boy got , they can fire me anytime if I walk away with a fortune and need never work again . even if they do a great job they are not worth Millions no one is .

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    458.Dr Bob Matthews
    You must work for the NSA as you are by default claiming to know the private & employment details of people you have probably never even met.

    Yes true, like the people claiming that bankers get bonuses for failure

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    bonuses always excused by saying they wouldn't be able to attract and keep the best of the best otherwise. Bankers have been taking excessive risks and despite ruining the banks bonuses are still paid and the banks are still being held up by us. I suggest we stop rewarding this high risk strategy of short term gains and reward steady behaviour instead. The high risk element can look elsewhere!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.


    Killing the businesses that keep our economy going will just mean people like 437.John_from_Hendon and 441.William of Westbury can't claim as much unemployment benefit.
    You must work for the NSA as you are by default claiming to know the private & employment details of people you have probably never even met. Well done, you are in that case worse than the bankers you seek to defend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    Would you be so kind as to produce evidence of your outburst or is this your normal modus operandi where people have the temerity to not agree with your point of view, Drivel is spouted on both sides of the political divided as your comment has just proved. Facts are discussed in a debate, parroting certain daily newspapers does little for anyone or the level of intelligence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Off message, but given that Parliment didn't take the abuse by the MP seriously, shouldn't it be closed down, or re-organised or have its funding cut like the BBC? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander
    (Moderators, i don't mind if you remove this, you don't need to tell me)

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    Why are some still confused by this.

    In the finance industry, if you are good at your job (you make your company money) then you get a bonus. If you're not very good (you lose money) you get fired.

    The very best make a lot of money for their company, so they are given big bonuses to stop their competitors stealing them. The worst become estate agents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    450 SJH
    Co-op Bank salaries have taken off with the change in management.
    Whether this is necessary, or whether hedge funds and bankers think high salaries are necessary? Do all other countries pay the same sort of levels, or just the US?

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    449 Vampire
    Barcalys got their bail out from the middle east. Can you confirm that other banks did need bailing out? Should their 'talent' get rewards like Barclays?
    The point about profit £5.2 Billion and the bonus pool £2.4 Billion was the amount going into bankers pockets and not shareholders.
    Why are you so sure I'm jealous?

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    More leftist, popularist propaganda which only hammers home the same boring drivel and does little to educate the sheep

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    I do not understand why anyone anyone should expect to get a bonus for doing a job they are extremely well paid for . some salaries are like a lottery win for most of the population who could live happily on the cash for many years . the folk who need a bonus are the underpaid to bring them to a living wage without having to beg for handouts

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Don`t worry about Barclay's the Co-op are right behind them in the obscene pay rise league...and they are ethical too.

    Mind you at least with the Co-op we know what the Chairman did with his all his loot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    @ 447 michellegrand

    "The Bankers are talent?" Yes quite a few of them are

    "Have you looked at the amount of profit that actually ends up with the shareholders?" Yes it's a widely available statistic...what's your point?

    "The amount of hard working tax payers money that has gone to keep the banks" Barclays hasn't been bailed out

    "It's not jealousy mate" Your last post was dripping with envy

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    Once again Peston is flogging this dead horse....

    They pay tax and most of it will end up back in the economy, which is good for everyone. Killing the businesses that keep our economy going will just mean people like 437.John_from_Hendon and 441.William of Westbury can't claim as much unemployment benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    But that argument is used to justify retaining BBC seniot staff on salaries of £500K. The Bankers are talent? Have you looked at the amount of profit that actually ends up with the shareholders? The amount of hard working tax payers money that has gone to keep the banks (and their talent afloat). It's not jealousy mate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Firstly, I don't like bankers. Not because of their huge salary's but more because many of them still have not learnt lesson from before.

    However, there is far too much jealousy in this country if someone has more than you. Most people who are high earners, are so on merit.
    They probably keep many of you on here in employment so stop whinging and work a little harder. You may like the rewards?


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