The reaction is rightfully upset after reading news like this:
Up to 10,000 staff at the New York office of the bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers will share a bonus pool set aside for them that is worth $2.5bn (£1.4bn), Barclays Bank, which is buying the business, confirmed last night.
The revelation sparked fury among the workers’ former colleagues, Lehman’s 5,000 staff based in London, who currently have no idea how long they will go on receiving even their basic salaries, let alone any bonus payments. It also prompted a renewed backlash over the compensation culture in global finance, with critics claiming that many bankers receive pay and rewards that bore no relation to the job they had done.
A spokesman for Barclays said the $2.5bn bonus pool in New York had been set aside before Lehman Brothers filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States a week ago. Barclays has agreed that the fund should continue to be ring-fenced now it has taken control of Lehman’s US business, a deal agreed by American bankruptcy courts over the weekend.
I’m really at a loss of words. One can see the cupidity inherent in the current American system through this example alone. And also the need for direct oversight of executive compensation, as companies have shown an inability to provide any meaningful limits on such payments.
Wall Street badly needs a culture change at the top. Its leaders must come to view themselves as stewards of institutions for the long term, not as temporary operators of vehicles proficient at finding new ways to throw off wealth, with everything else – including impact on the public interest – a mere detail. Institutional stewardship will mean, in practice, forgoing some opportunities for making a killing when the downside of a bet gone bad may be to jeopardize a franchise . . . .
The most objectionable aspect of CEO compensation isn’t primarily the unfairness of the few at the top taking more than their appropriate share, nor that CEOs could cash in their personal gains based on ephemeral financial value, nor even the absurdity of massive “golden parachutes” paid out in cases of failure. The worst affront to the national interest is that these compensation arrangements created incentives for CEOs to “roll the dice” in search of the biggest possible scores for the company (and, not coincidentally, themselves), with too little regard for the downside risk if they bet wrong. And with no appreciation for the potentially dangerous consequences of such gambles, in the aggregate, for the economic security of the American people.
Hat Tip: folo
Cross posted at Workplace Prof Blog.