3 August 2009

This week we will learn how much profit (or loss) that our Banks will post. To the fore comes comment on bonuses paid to those traders “gambling” in a high risk – high reward environment. Howls of outrage are usually met with protests that it is too difficult to change the culture, that it will lead to an exodus of talent etc.

We have two issues here 1. Should Banks be allowed to gamble on the markets this way and 2. How should traders be rewarded.

On the first point then the answer should be yes however there has to be strict limits placed on the trading related to the strength of the Bank balance sheet and ability to meet obligations should losses be made. It was unlimited gambling on ever more obscure derivatives which caused the downfall of many institutions and yet we seem prepared to let the same mistakes be made. The argument that a bank is too large to be allowed to fail simply means that it is too large.

Reward for traders has a simple solution and yet no-one wants to break ranks. Traders can be paid bonuses according to how successful they are but the bonuses should be in shares and must be held for at least 5 years before they can be traded. In addition if losses are made then entitlement to shares reduces proportionally. This way there is an incentive to look at the long term rather than short term and each trader is tied to the performance of their parent company.

The bleats that this may affect the city in a negative way and drive away “talent” are foundless. Do we really want financial mercenaries gambling with our future? If they have no moral guidelines or sense of responsibility then quite frankly we are better off without them.

We talk about corporate responsibility and it is a real interest of mine but I have doubts if any of our top 250 companies pay anything other than lip service to this.

Reward exceptional work but tie it in to overall company performance and make any incentives long term – do this and we may just have a better society and stronger companies as a result!

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