No gold bars but higher salaries for London bankers with bonus cap

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SummaryIn the 1990s, London-based investment banks rewarded top employees with gold bars, fine wine and oriental carpets...

In the 1990s, London-based investment banks rewarded top employees with gold bars, fine wine and oriental carpets to dent the impact of higher payroll taxes.

Now, with public anger at banking excess near all time highs, they are looking at less flashy ways to cope with curbs on bonuses, including a new monthly allowance.

European rules due to take force in January say bankers' bonuses cannot exceed annual salary, or twice that if shareholders approve, to curb the sort of excessive risk-taking blamed for the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Salaries have not dropped in line with banks' revenues since the crisis, consultancy McKinskey said this month, despite a series of huge, taxpayer-funded bank bailouts.

At least 10,000 bankers, most of them in London, take home more than half a million euros 500,000 euros ($678,700), according to industry sources, more than 10 times the average wage in wealthier European states.

With much of pay currently in bonuses, the biggest banks in London, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays and JP Morgan, look certain to bump up salaries.

Britain and the banks in what is Europe's financial capital argue the new rules play into the hands of competing financial centres such as New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

They also say it provides less scope to claw back pay if it turns out an individual had taken too much risk, and limits the ability to pay bonuses in shares awarded in the future.

The cap affects all "risk taking" staff for EU banks and the European staff of those outside the trading bloc, so all major investment banks are affected, including U.S. lenders such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

"There's absolutely no question that fixed pay is going to rise," said Jon Terry, partner at PwC. "But the standard response may not be by increases in salary, by far the most common response will be the introduction of allowances.

"They are a bit more flexible, but it will fundamentally involve a shift of a proportion of variable pay into fixed pay."

Britain's Barclays last week said it will increase fixed pay using such a structure. It plans to give bankers in specific risk-taking roles an additional monthly payment, set at the start of the year and to run for 12 months.

The top-up will not be included in pension calculations and could rise or fall depending on demand for a particular role.

Other banks, such as JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, are expected to consider similar plans,

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