The Changing Landscape for Incentive Pay


10-25-13-Blanchard.pngHistorically, bank employees have enjoyed a culture where employees had a feeling of entitlement to generous annual salary increases and profit-sharing bonuses merely for continuing to work for the bank. That is changing. Performance based cultures that reward shareholders and employees and allow transparent communication of expectations and results are becoming more prevalent.

Creating compensation plans that provide a transparent link between actual organizational performance and executive pay is now the rule rather than the exception. Several aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act encourage pay for performance, including mandatory clawbacks of unearned compensation, transparency of incentive compensation agreements and shareholder say-on-pay advisory votes. The increasing influence of shareholder advisory groups (primarily Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass-Lewis) have driven public banks to change executive compensation practices to reflect pay for performance.

Private banks also are shifting executive compensation practices as their regulators look for best practices in executive compensation. Blanchard Consulting Group’s 2012 Executive Benefits Survey showed that 59 percent of banks said regulators reviewed executive compensation plans and practices during the exam. Blanchard Consulting Group’s 2013 Compensation Trends survey found that 63 percent of banks have modified executive compensation incentive plans in at least one of the last three years based on the changing bank regulations.

Compensation transparency at the executive level as well as emphasis on cost containment (salary and benefits costs are generally the largest budget expenditure for a bank) are supporting a larger overall bank cultural shift away from “pay for loyalty.”

Creating a Performance Based Culture

What can your bank do to start to support a sales and performance based culture? Creating a bank-wide annual incentive plan (AIP) with individual employee goals that “roll-up” to the executive AIP goals is one alternative. For example, in the lending department, all the loan officers’ portfolio loan growth goals at target performance levels should add up to the overall bank target loan growth goal. Your bank can also affect change with strategic use of the annual salary increase budget. For example, your bank may target a 3 percent salary increase for all employees. Instead of just giving all employees a 3 percent increase, many banks are now using position on a salary range and performance reviews to give more of a salary increase to high performing employees or those that are meeting performance expectations and are low on the salary range. There is an opportunity for strategic salary budget use, especially with the recent economic hardship that certainly broke down employee entitlement thinking around salary increases. Many banks froze salary increases or bonuses or both during 2008 to 2010. This practice as well as bank failures, mergers and acquisition activity, reduction in force, and hiring freezes gave employees a clearer sense of how their pay and job security is affected by overall bank performance.

Impact on Executive Officer, Producer and Staff Level Incentive Plans

Both executive and non-executive incentive plans are being structured to meet several different planning objectives including the following:

  • Earning opportunities under executive officer incentive plans should be reasonable and capped, as cash incentive plans with unreasonably high payout opportunities may motivate executives to take excessive risks or manipulate earnings.
  • Incentive plans that relied historically on profitability or income goals are adding strategic and/or asset quality goals that focus on long-term viability.
  • Many banks with producer plans that pay out frequently are moving to annual payouts and considering holding back/deferring a portion of the incentive payout until it can be determined that a loan will not become problematic.
  • Mortgage lender compensation restrictions by the Federal Reserve and Dodd-Frank prohibit banks from paying mortgage lenders incentives that are based on fees.
  • Many banks are now including a long-term incentive component in executive pay-for-performance programs to help mitigate regulatory concerns that executives focus exclusively on short-term goals.
  • Today, the most common form of long-term incentive for publicly traded banks is restricted stock, which is viewed more favorably by the new regulations and guidelines. Restricted stock typically provides a stronger retention device than stock options and typically provides lower stock dilution rates.
  • Many private banks will use phantom stock and/or performance-based deferred compensation programs when real stock is not available.
  • Stock ownership guidelines and holding requirements (especially in public banks) are viewed favorably by regulators and shareholders.

Incentive compensation programs have experienced increased scrutiny in recent years. However, performance based compensation seems to be more useful than ever. Banks need to be more strategic and many are trying to drive a performance turnaround. To that end, identifying, quantifying, and driving the right performance plan can play a critical role and can differentiate your bank and your high performing employees from the competition.