In defence of bonuses

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Needless to say, considering the build-up to the release of the FSA's revised bonus reform code, it's not very revelatory. In fact, most of the original controversial proposals have been diluted down to best practice recommendations. What does make interesting reading, however, is the reactions to the regulator's initial hard line.

The most inflammatory proposals - that 66% of 'significant' bonuses must be deferred and that incentives must be linked to the overall performance of the firm rather than the individual or division - have been revised.

Now, it's going to be frowned upon to offer guaranteed bonuses of more than one year and the deferrals are now classified as 'guidance' rather than 'evidential provisions'.

What's more junior staff and those whose bonus is not linked to performance (ie, operations and middle office employees) are unlikely to be affected.

Hector Sants, chief executive of the FSA, still insisted: "We have not rowed back. It has not been watered down."

Most of the major banks involved in the lengthy consultation process over the initial document said the proposals were "too prescriptive and too inclined to a 'one size fits all' approach".

When asked if they agreed with the need for regulatory change, some respondents said that there was no "empirical evidence of remuneration policies being responsible for the crisis and that the FSA should make this implicitly clear" and that "poor remuneration practices should be recognised as a contributing factor, rather than an underlying cause" of the financial crisis.

What's more, in further defence of the current bonus system: "One respondent urged us not to ignore the fact that short-term discretionary awards can be a good management tool to encourage the right behaviours and to motivate staff."

Still, watered down or not, banks will have to comply with the new code by 1 January 2010 (an extension of the initial November deadline) and the FSA will be the first regulator to implement any changes in spite of concerns over undermining the UK's competitiveness.

"Whilst there is general international agreement on the need for supervisory action on remuneration policies and practices we will be the first major financial regulator to take this step," said Sants.

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