Paying executives in a way that keeps shareholders happy and retains top executive talent remains challenging, and 44 percent of attendees of Bank Director’s Bank Executive and Board Compensation Conference in Chicago cited tying compensation to performance as the top compensation challenge they face heading into 2014.
Bank Director and consulting firm Compensation Advisors by Meyer-Chatfield polled more than 175 members of the audience at the conference, which occurred Nov. 4-5.
Bill MacDonald, chairman of the advisory board at Meyer-Chatfield, said he’s not surprised by the challenges faced by compensation committee members and human resources executives attending the conference. Many banks tie compensation to performance indicators like return on assets or return on equity, which for many banks have not been great in a flat economy. MacDonald recommended that boards should not rely solely on these metrics. They should also compare pay to peer groups and base incentives on strategic goals, “coming up with measurements of improvement that the executive and directors can control,” he said. Strategic goals might include revenue growth, opening new branches or improving loan quality.
Forty-one percent of attendees said that the development of competitive compensation packages is their board’s biggest challenge when it comes to attracting and retaining talent for the bank. When asked about specific challenges in offering competitive compensation packages, 30 percent of attendees said that their bank simply cannot afford to pay as much as other financial institutions. “I don’t think affordability should be an objection to not putting in a performance-based plan, because if the performance is there, the economics are there [and] the shareholders will be rewarded,” said MacDonald.
James Dent, an attendee of the event and chairman of the compensation committee at Old Line Bancshares Inc., a $1.2 billion-asset holding company headquartered in Bowie, Maryland, said it’s important to stay competitive with the market in order to attract and retain talented staff. “If you want good talent, you’re going to have to pay for it,” he said. “It’s just a question of whether you want to step up to the plate and do the number that’s required.”
Thirty-nine percent of attendees said there is a lack of talented candidates, while 15 percent cited a talent vacuum caused by the retirement of experienced executives. MacDonald said that many executives have been unable to retire due to the economic downturn and its impact on retirement plans. “The stock didn’t perform, they can’t leave, and we’ve got a great group of middle management stuck behind this group of Baby Boomers,” he said. “So the challenge really is, how do you continue to retain and grow this middle management talent?”
Forty-two percent of attendees expressed satisfaction with their bank’s succession plan, while 36 percent were unhappy with the bank’s succession plan and 15 percent said that their banks don’t have a plan in place. Dent said that his bank is more comfortable with succession planning than they were two years ago, with a plan in place not just for the chief executive officer, but also for executives like the bank’s chief financial officer, senior lender and credit officer. “We have the talent in place to move forward if something were to happen,” he said.
Bob Greer, chairman of Business First Bank, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with $684 million in assets, said that his bank doesn’t have a formal succession plan in place. Business First’s president and CEO, Jude Melville, is under 40, but if Melville left the bank, “We have very good bankers right under him,” he said. “I don’t think our bank would miss a beat, so I’m not that concerned.”
When asked about board pay, 40 percent of attendees expected to see director compensation increase in 2014, while 58 percent expected pay to remain the same. So are directors fairly compensated? Fifty-three percent of attendees said yes, while 43 percent said no.
After spending two years gradually raising the board’s pay to better meet peer averages, Dent believed that Old Line’s board is fairly paid. “We have brought on some new talent,” he said. “They’re very busy people and we feel we should be paid for the time and the responsibility,” he said.
MacDonald said board compensation differs based on the maturity and structure of the board, as well as what phase of growth the bank is in. Community bank board members, already large shareholders at their banks, are focused on protecting their investment and less likely to crave a cash reward. A larger bank may favor a blend of cash compensation and restricted stock.
Greer said that Business First just started to compensate the board, in cash, in 2012. Right now he expects board pay to remain steady in 2014, and said that board pay will likely never be enough to compensate for the time, liability and responsibility of being a director. “It’s taking so much more time,” he said. “Most people own stock in their particular bank and want their bank to do well, so [they] don’t mind giving the time. I think the only problem is… I don’t see it slowing down any.”