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EU’s Highest-Paid Bankers in U.K. as Bonus Awards Exceed Cap

Workers Pass Clocks in the Canary Wharf Business District
Britain was home to 2,188 investment bankers earning more than 1 million euros in 2012, the highest amount in the European Union, while Spain had 37, the EBA said in a survey. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Top U.K. investment bankers were paid an average of 1.95 million euros ($2.65 million) in 2012, as bonuses continued to exceed caps set to take effect next year, according to the European Union banking regulator.

The highest-paid bankers in the U.K. had an average bonus-to-salary ratio of 370 percent, according to the European Banking Authority survey of EU finance workers who earn more than 1 million euros a year. In France, the ratio was 495 percent.

The EU brokered a deal in February to outlaw banker bonuses that are more than twice fixed pay, a move lawmakers said would prevent excessive payouts and curb irresponsible risk-taking. The U.K. government challenged the caps at the EU’s highest court in September, saying they were illegal.

“Self-regulation does not work and the report illustrates why the European Parliament took the unprecedented step of inserting a hard bonus cap in the absence of action by the industry,” Arlene McCarthy, a U.K. lawmaker in the European Parliament’s Socialist group, and lead legislator on a previous round of EU bonus rules, said in an e-mail.

Britain was home to 2,188 investment bankers earning more than 1 million euros in 2012, the highest amount in the EU, while Spain had 37, the London-based EBA, set up in 2011 to harmonize banking rules in the EU, said in the survey. France and Germany had 117 and 100.

Capping Bonuses

The EBA said in May that any banker paid more than 500,000 euros should be covered by the new rules capping bonuses. The watchdog also targeted the best-paid 0.3 percent of staff in a bank, and some bankers with bonuses higher than 75,000 euros.

The boost to fixed pay means “less alignment between performance and pay,” Syed Kamall, a U.K. Conservative party lawmaker who represents London in the European Parliament, said in an interview.

Senior retail bankers in Spain were better paid than their investment banking colleagues, and were the highest-earning in Europe in 2012, making an average of 2.2 million euros a year, according to the report. That’s compared to 1.7 million euros for investment bankers there.

Investment Bankers

In France and Germany, the top investment bankers earned about 1.5 million euros each on average, while the 47 bankers in Italy that qualified for the study made around 1.6 million euros a year.

Lenders have said they will increase salaries to offset the EU cap on bonuses. About half of 150 human resources employees surveyed by Towers Watson & Co. in June said they planned to boost fixed pay.

U.K. bankers may get as much as 500 million pounds ($817 million) more in salary to compensate, Andrew Bailey, Britain’s chief banking supervisor and a deputy governor of the Bank of England, told U.K. lawmakers in March.

“Rather than being concerned about salary ratios, the EBA should be far more concerned that banks are already pushing up basic salaries in response to the rule,” said Kamall, an opponent of the EU measure limiting bonuses to twice fixed pay.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said this week that he would seek banker bonus curbs in the Netherlands that are even tougher than the EU standards.

His proposals, made in a letter to the Dutch parliament, would limit bonuses to a fifth of wages, with those working outside the country exempted.

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