Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wages in banking

Early in the financial crisis, Raghuram Rajan put compensation issues into the centre of thinking about what has gone wrong. In recent weeks, in India, this dimension has come to life. P. Vaidyanathan Iyer had a story in Indian Express saying that RBI had blocked the compensation packages of the CEOs of three private banks: ING Vysya Bank, Axis Bank and Development Credit Bank. Something similar might be taking place with HDFC Bank also.

See Anita Bhoir in Mint on CEO compensation of private banks in India. In the case of Axis Bank, the compensation of the outgoing CEO (P. J. Nayak) in 2007-08 was Rs. 1.5 crore. This is a firm with a market value of Rs.25,000 crore today, which reported a net profit of Rs.1041 crore in that year. I would also reckon that of all Indian banks, Axis Bank is a cut apart in terms of the corporate governance culture, and the say that the outside board members have in the affairs of the firm.

I have an article in Financial Express today, where I say that concerns about ownership, governance and compensation are important components of the regulatory process in finance. But what is needed is a sophisticated analysis of the incentives that these three elements (in combination) induce. This requires a subtle understanding of economics and incentives. An approach of merely blocking high wages is one of giving in to the populist politics of envy. Conversely, improving compensation structures of PSUs requires not just shifting to a higher level of wages under an old-style wage formula, but a full rethink of the incentive implications of a wage formula.

See Alex Edmans and Xavier Gabaix on voxEU on designing the right mechanism for executive compensation, and we get a flavour of the kind of subtlety that RBI needs to bring into this. And, read Martin Wolf on the deeper problems of banking.

Also see: statement by Timothy Geithner on compensation on 10 June, a debate between Gary Becker and Richard Posner, and a blog post by Jayanth Varma.

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