Monthly Archives: March 2009


The NY Times published yesterday part of a letter sent by A.I.G’s CEO to the Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, defending $165 million in bonuses he wants to pay TODAY to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.

Just to make sure you all understand: The CEO of AIG wants to pay $165 million in bonuses to those who are responsible to the current financial catastrophe. These people made a fortune in the past 8 years from irresponsible underwriting and investing that was driven by short-term greed – and made a fortune. AIG wants to take your tax dollars and  further inflate their wallets.

Edward M. Liddy, the government-appointed chairman of A.I.G.,  wrote to Mr. Geithner that at least some bonuses were needed to keep the most skilled executives:

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury

Mr. Libby is lying. This is the only option, as he is not stupid. He is  lying because he knows very well that there is no way that any of these executive will leave if they don’t get their bonus. The reason? Nobody else is hiring!!

Go ahead, test it – and see how long it takes for your redundant executives to find a new job that pays the same. Non of your competitors is hiring, non of the other financial institutions, so just stop the BS.

Mr. Libby is also promoting the continuation of the financial meltdown. These people have directly caused this situation – They should get a 50% pay cut to discipline them and show them that what they did was wrong.  Giving them bonuses is simple outrageous, as it promotes the same actions that caused this mess.

If you paid taxes in the last year you own roughly 80% of AIG. The person who runs AIG’s investment community division is Teri Watson. Since you are now part of this investment community you should email them and demand not to pay these bonuses – the email is


Gordon Brown: Bankers’ Compensation is Broken

And here we are again: Gordon Brown, the U.K. prime minister, said today he was “angry that hard-working people are being squeezed because of banking mistakes” and called for an “urgent clean up and clear out” of the banking system, adding that “We must agree international principles to end that short-term bonus culture and instead reward long-term sustainable results.”

We have wrote about this for months now. The feast has to stop. The path to healing involves a lot of pain, and many bankers just don’t feel that pain yet. We said that salaries should be cut by 50% to all executives in the banking and financial sectors who got federal funding, while stopping bonus pay altogether.

People have caused this mess, and people will fix it. They need to feel the pain, work twice as hard with half of what they had, as this is key to guarantee that the economy will get back on its feet as soon as possible.

The full story from Bloomberg is here.

Harvard Business: Exec Comp is Broken

It’s was tempting to say out loud that “Great minds think alike” when reading David Chamption’s post on Harvard Business Review’s blog. We wrote here few times now that executive compensation’s best practices in the financial sector must be revised. Tax payers are forced to own these companies and hence overpay executives for poor performance. Chamption is hinting that  compensation for executives in the financial industry should not be much different than compensation for other federal bureaucrats (we wrote about this before). He also suggests to implement indexed pay systems , which is not a bad idea. Here’s the full quote:

When stock prices were rising and job markets were booming, no-one was too fussed to see CEOs and top bankers rake in their mammoth bonuses. It was the tolerable price we paid for a healthy capitalist system. These people took smart bets and fairly earned the rewards. Fair play to them.

With the Dow off 40%, unemployment at its highest in a decade and rising, and a bankrupted financial system, we’ve turned on the fat cats. Now, they’re responsible. No more than $500,000 for the CEO, we’re saying, at least as long as the taxpayer owns the shares. Fair play to us.

It shouldn’t take a financial rocket scientist to tell you that this kind of cap isn’t the smartest way to clean up the mess. Let’s imagine we’ve fast-forwarded to 2011, the financial crisis is over, and Bank of America is turning in record profits, after carefully cleaning its loan books all by itself and managing growth well, and the government is poised to sell its holdings to an eager public.

Suppose also that JP Morgan has gone down the tubes, having failed to manage its loan portfolio, and is asking for more cash (my apologies to CEO Jamie Dimon for this liberty).

According to the new wisdom we’d pay the CEOs of both establishments $500,000 a year. Yet, as shareholders in Bank of America we should be falling over ourselves to reward the team that delivered such results. (Of course, once the banks are out of trouble, the pay caps go away, but that rewards the performance after the turnaround, not the performance that delivered it).

But as shareholders of JP Morgan, we’d have to be asking ourselves what did those bozos do with the money?

Actually, there is a smarter way to pay top executives. Former Kellogg Professor Al Rappaport wrote an article about it, back in March of 1999.

Rappaport argued that the proper way to reward CEOs was through granting them options whose strike prices were tied to an index of peer group of companies. If the company outperformed competitors, the manager got rewarded. If the company didn’t outperform or did worse, there was no reward. More to the point, if the company did better than competitors even in a falling market (i.e., its share price fell by less than the peer group index) the manager would get a payout, maybe even a hefty one, so it would be perfect for the scenario I just pictured as it would provide incentive for performing in hard times, when you arguably need it most.

Rappaport isn’t the only proponent of indexed pay. Over here in Europe, Herman Stern, CEO of Zurich-based financial consultants Obermatt, has been talking about the same topic. Intuitively, it’s hard to argue with the approach, and it’s likely that more and more people will advocate that companies adopt it.

Simple, right?

But if it’s such a good idea, why didn’t companies adopt it years ago? The short answer is that turkeys don’t vote for Thanksgiving. Executives won’t voluntarily switch to compensation schemes that make it harder to pick up the big bucks. Of course, in a recession and in the wake of a financial crisis it might be easier to get over that problem.

But the short answer isn’t good enough anyway. Unfortunately there’s a more serious obstacle to indexed pay. When the economy heats up again, the war for talent will warm up with it. One of the easy ways for companies to compete in that war is by offering easy dollars. In that case, companies that stick to virtuous indexing may end up losing the best executives. If the Yankees offer a pitcher guaranteed money and the Red Sox offer that same pitcher money for each win over the average pitcher’s wins, where will that pitcher sign?

Would you bet against companies falling back into bad habits of excessive pay if they can afford to?

So the question we should be asking ourselves is not how we should be paying bosses – we’ve lots of good ideas about that-but rather how can we make fair pay schemes stick.

It’s a question I put to Stern, and I hope he – or someone – can answer it. Maybe you can. How would you make indexed pay systems stick?

Our thought process, outrageous as it may be for some people,  leads to somewhat of the same conclusion as of some of the good people at HBS.

19.7 Billion in Losses? We’ll Double Your Pay

February 10th, 2009: UBS, the world’s biggest banker to the rich, as a disastrous expansion into investment banking, reported a bigger-than-expected 8.1 billion Swiss franc ($7 billion) net loss in the fourth quarter and an annual loss of 19.7 billion francs, the biggest ever by a Swiss company and above predictions for 18.7 billion francs.

March 2nd, 2009:  UBS, the world’s biggest banker to the rich, reported to increase salaries for senior bankers to about 300,000 pounds ($429,400) from about 120,000 pounds ($171,800).

If this was a small business, say, the Pizza place around your block, nobody would have gotten a raise if the business was losing money while the Pizza industry was collapsing. Nobody.

There is no place in the western world where one could not live in prosperity for $171,800 / year. Hence, there is no reason to double the pay of anyone until the bank is profitable again.

There is also no risk of people leaving in case salaries are not raised. That is because nobody is hiring.

Once again, this shows that something is broken. Banks get tax payers dollars and use them to double up salaries.

After all, if you kept your job, it seems like it’s a good time to be a banker. Somebody strong is watching out for you, making sure you keep your high standard of living though you lost billions of dollars of our money by making bad investment decisions. Good for you.