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Restricting bankers’ pay has only made them richer

Wall Street protester
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Alas, they paid themselves.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Big banks whinged endlessly about the perilous US regulations foisted onto them after the financial crisis. But as it turns out, the reforms tied to banker pay have only made fat cats even plumper.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 16 that, thanks to Goldman Sachs’s soaring stock price, its employees are sitting on $600 million (paywall) in compensation. And that doesn’t include its already sizable bonus packages announced the same day, sources tell Quartz. The windfall is even more pronounced at the top: Goldman Sachs executives like president Gary Cohn and CEO Lloyd Blankfein are each looking at cashing in their restricted stock awards worth $10 million each.

Blame US pay czar Ken Feinberg, who got the ball rolling on tougher US compensation rules in 2009, which required financial firms like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley to pay their executives less in cash and more in deferred stock, which vests over time and can’t be immediately sold. The idea was to link performance of the firm with the banker’s compensation. But because bank shares hit their lows in 2008 and 2009 in the wake the credit crisis, they’re now at near-pre-implosion levels. Goldman’s shares, for instance, are up 137% since January of 2009—the year when some of the bank’s restricted shares were issued.

Bankers might argue that rising share prices merely reflect their firms’ stellar performance. But it’s worth remembering that there’s more behind share prices in this frothy economy than strong corporate performance. There’s also the helping hand of US bank bailouts and the Federal Reserve’s longstanding easy monetary policy, which was designed to buoy the stock market.

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