Betting the bonus to scoop the jackpot

BBC business editor Robert Peston on the City's gambling culture

How reconciled is the City, its bankers and traders, to the new world demanded by regulators and politicians - a world in which bonuses are largely paid in shares rather than cash, where these rewards are saved not immediately spent, and where leverage (or indebtedness relative to net worth) is kept to a minimum?

Not very, if an advert that I have been sent captures anything like the mood in the corner offices and trading floors of Canary Wharf and Square Mile.

The ad is by Saxo Bank, the self-proclaimed "specialist in trading and investment", and in big bold letters the ad asks "PAID IN SHARES THIS MONTH?"

Apparently if that's the currency of your remuneration you can "deposit your stock directly into your Saxo Account and use up to 75% of its value for margin trading".

Or to put it another way, you can use three-quarters of the value of any pay or bonuses you have received in shares as security for any bets you wish to place in securities markets.

Now that's what I call leveraging up. You get your bonus, and then you immediately pledge it as your guarantee against losses as you try to multiply the value of that bonus through speculation.

And in case you think I overstate the risky nature of all this, Saxo helpfully adds small print to the effect that "complex derivative products traded on margin carry a high degree of risk and are not suitable for every investor" and "you can lose more than your initial deposit".

Or to put it another way, regulators may impose all the formal conditions they like on how bankers are paid (shares instead of cash, rewards deferred and subject to clawback rather than paid upfront, stock that can't be sold for years).

But while there remains a short-term trading culture in the City, all those restrictions may serve to do is create powerful incentives to find imaginative way around the new rules - so that share-based bonuses, underwritten by taxpayers, can be turned into fat wodges of lovely cash.

You can keep up with the latest from business editor Robert Peston by visiting his blog on the BBC News website.

More on this story

Around the BBC