CS, Barclays shareholders revolt over pay plans
London, April 28, 2012
More than a quarter of shareholders at Credit Suisse and Barclays voted down the banks' pay plans yesterday, in a sign of investors catching up with popular outrage over bankers' pay.
Such stark rejections are rare, with the average vote against pay proposals at British companies last year only six per cent. This year's shareholder meetings to approve the plans were stormy, with investors venting their fury at bosses they see gaining at their expense.
The full force of investor discontent was felt by both banks, with Credit Suisse saying 31.6 per cent of investors who voted opposed the Swiss bank's remuneration plan, although this still allowed the non-binding vote to pass.
In London, Britain's Barclays said 26.9 per cent of its investors opposed its plan. Including abstentions, the number who chose not to back the resolution was 31.5 per cent.
Anger is rife in the population at large, with public concern that an industry whose excesses sparked the global downturn is still awarding multimillion dollar payouts.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves for taking so much money away from us. We are the owners of this bank, and you are our employees. We should be the ones who decide what you earn," said Rudolf Weber at the Credit Suisse meeting, to applause from other shareholders.
"People feel that bankers and the banking sector have lost touch with what's real," said Jim Arnott, 56, an executive coach in London who counts bankers among his clients. "The majority of people feel it's just a culture of greed."
After the vote, Credit Suisse chairman Urs Rohner said he viewed it as a signal to work on compensation methods.
Barclays chairman Marcus Agius apologised for badly communicating the bank's pay strategy and promised to "materially" increase the dividend shareholders receive, helping to lift the bank's shares more than 4 per cent.
But he was heckled during his speech to a packed hall of about 2,000 shareholders and his comments about pay were greeted with laughter in some quarters.
"We should have engaged with shareholders earlier, as we are going to do for this year," Agius said after the meeting, adding that big investors are now putting more scrutiny on pay awards.
"This year the institutions are very keen to be seen to be exercising stewardship more closely than they have in the past," he said.
Politicians and shareholder advisory groups urged investors to send a clear message to banks on the need for pay restraint.
"Today's outcome clearly shows the investor concern with the company's remuneration policy," said Robert Talbut, chairman of the Association of British Insurers, whose members account for about a fifth of the UK stock market.
"All banks face a challenge to improve their investment case by getting a better balance of returns to shareholders, payments to employees and capital retention," Talbut said.
Barclays paid out £660 million ($1.1 billion) in dividends last year, while its bonus pot for investment bank staff was £1.5 billion, and across the bank it paid 2.5 billion in "performance costs."-Reuters