Compensating Employees in a Crisis

It’s an old conflict with new, pandemic-created urgency: How to compensate employees during a crisis.

Compensation is one of the biggest variable expenses a bank has, and many incentive compensation plans may have components or goals that are no longer realistic at this state of the business cycle. At the same time, bank employees have served as first-responders to the economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic, putting in long hours to modify or originate loans. Boards are figuring out how to reward employees for these efforts while keeping a lid on expenses overall, balancing the bank’s growth and safety against the short-term operating environment.

The Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration creates an interesting compensation opportunity for banks, says Flynt Gallagher, president of Compensation Advisors. Many banks had employees who pulled all-nighters while working remotely to fulfill demand for these unsolicited loans. Some institutions may choose to exercise discretion by issuing spot awards, which reward employees for a specific behavior over a limited period of time, to bankers who worked overtime to help customers. Gallagher believes these may be larger than a typical award, citing one client that is setting aside $100,000 of PPP profits to distribute to employees who pitched in.

The pandemic created challenges for Civista Bancshares’ commercial lenders and their incentive compensation program, though it presented opportunities as well. Processing PPP applications took time that the Sandusky, Ohio-based bank’s commercial team may have spent monitoring and administrating their existing portfolios or prospecting for new customers. But after the $2.6 billion bank satiated demand from current customers, it opened its doors for new customers, says Civista Bancshares CEO Dennis Shaffer. Some new customers transferred their accounts and service needs as a result, which counts toward deposit goals that retail bank staff have.

Banks with plans featuring objectives or goals that may no longer be reasonable or prudent may be able to exercise discretion under their plans’ “extraordinary events” clause, Gallagher says. The clause applies to events that materially affect profitability, like selling a branch or implementing a new operating system. Banks electing that approach, he says, will also need to quantify the impact that Covid-19 has had on their performance.

At Civista, goals tend to be set in the first quarter, and Shaffer says that changing course on an incentive plan midstream could compromise its integrity. Gallagher adds that public companies like Civista may face scrutiny from proxy advisory firms if they make changes to a current plan or exercise too much description.

But boards have some options as they evaluate their current incentive compensation plans. Some may break their compensation plans into shorter plan periods. Gallagher predicts that banks may decide to shift or roll up individual goals into team or department objectives to reward the broad efforts of groups that may have gone beyond the four corners of their job descriptions.

“I don’t think you’re going to see any general methodology adopted. It’s going to be all over the board, based on the institution,” he says.

Walden Savings Bank is comparing its compensation plan, which uses a scorecard of 12 metrics evaluated monthly, to its expected financial performance, says Stephen Burger, who has chaired the Montgomery, New York-based bank’s compensation committee for 16 years. He says there is already “no way” to achieve at least four of those metrics, reducing the incentive accrual by 25%. The board and CEO of the $603 million bank also decided to cut their pay, but so far no employees have been laid off or furloughed.

“The scorecard is just a guideline,” he says. “We do have latitude to look at other opportunities and reward or cut in certain areas.”

The bank is already trying to keep a tight lid on expenses. They stayed local for their strategic planning weekend instead of going out of town, implemented a hiring freeze, paused a branch transformation project and are mulling alternations to certain benefits or staff reductions.

“We will find a way to reward our employees,” Burger says. “At the same time, if earnings aren’t there, we’ll also do a very effective job of making sure that they recognize that it’s a unique type of year.

Gallagher cautions against banks making short-term cuts in employment or not rewarding producers. Good employees need to be retained in anticipation of better operating periods. And some banks may actually look to hire new employees right now, given that mass unemployment has flooded the marketplace with talent.

“One banker [I spoke to] said he doesn’t think he is overstaffed, he just doesn’t think he has people in the right places,” Gallagher says. “Companies that are forward-thinking will go hard on people while they’re available, even if they don’t need them. You’ll figure out how to use them to the best of their ability later. Get the talent right now.”

The High Cost of Good Talent and the Value of Retention

How would your bank fare if your top-performing lenders left tomorrow?

A bank succeeds because of its employees who grow the bank and keep it safe. The departure of these employees can impose massive costs to a bank in lost relationships and the effort to find new personnel. Has management at your bank adequately assessed the financial cost and risk of losing its key employees? What would be the financial impact to the bottom line and shareholder value if a key employee is not retained?

The direct cost of replacing a high-performing employee is up to 213% of the annual salary associated with the position, according to research by the Society for Human Resource Management. Total costs can rise to as much as 400% when considering indirect expenses. Direct costs include screening, interviewing, acquisition cost, onboarding and training, while indirect costs include lost productivity, short-staffing, coverage cost and reduced morale.

The following are hypothetical examples that help illustrate both the costs and risks associated with replacing a key employee at a bank:

Example 1: A lender in their early 40s who maintains a $40 million loan portfolio with a 4% margin joins a competitor bank. The estimated earnings on the lender’s portfolio were $1.6 million. If 30% of the portfolio moves to the competing bank, that would create an annual impact of $480,000. The bank stands to lose $1.4 million in three years. Assuming this lender generates $10 million in new loans annually, that adds another $400,000 in additional lost income. Losing this one lender results in lost annual revenue of almost $900,000.

Now imagine the bank has seven lenders with similar portfolios and margins. If the entire team left, the lost revenue potential could be over $6 million annually.

Example 2: A bank loses its compliance officer. In addition to the direct financial costs of replacing the officer, this could cause both short- and long-term regulatory and financial risks and challenges. If the officer had a salary of $90,000, the cost to replace them is between $191,700 and $360,000, using the 213% and 400% of base salary replacement cost assumptions. There could also be additional costs associated with potential outsourcing the compliance services until the bank can hire a new compliance officer.

Fortunately, in both of these examples, management preemptively responded by strategically designing compensation programs to retain the officers. Quantifying the lost revenue and costs to replace the employees demonstrated the substantial risks to the bank, and convinced executives of the  inadequacies of the compensation plan in place.

It is critical that banks design and implement competitive compensation plans that provide meaningful benefits. Some compensation committees believe a salary and an annual performance bonus are adequate to retain key employees. But based on our experience, banks with higher retention rates offer two to four types of compensation plans, in addition to salary and bonus. Examples include employee stock ownership plans, stock options, restrictive stock, phantom stock, profit sharing, salary continuation plans and deferred compensation plans. These plans provide for payments either at retirement or while employed, or a combination of pre- and post-retirement payments. Banks can strategically design and customize these plans in ways that incentivize strong performance but fit the demographics and needs of the key personnel. There is no one-size-fits-all plan.

Additionally, nonqualified executive benefit programs such as supplemental executive retirement plans (SERPs) and deferred compensation plans (DCPs) can help your key employees accumulate supplemental funds for retirement. Their flexibility allows them to be used alongside other forms of compensation to enhance your bank’s overall executive benefit program by offering additional incentives and incorporating special features intended to retain top performers who may not be focused on retirement. For example, a deferred compensation plan with payments timed to when the officer’s children are college age can be highly valued by an officer fitting that demographic.

The significant potential financial impact when your bank loses key employees quantifies and underlines the value and importance of retention, so it is paramount that executives meaningfully and competitively compensate these employees. Banks without a strong corporate culture and a competitive compensation plan in place are at a higher risk of losing key employees and may have an emerging potential retention problem.

Use Compensation Plans to Tackle a Talent Shortage


Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the global financial crisis? As you’ll no doubt recall, what was originally a localized mortgage crisis spiraled into a full-blown liquidity crisis and economic recession. As a result, Congress passed unprecedented regulatory reform, largely in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act, the impact of which is still being felt today.

Significant executive compensation and corporate governance regulatory requirements now require the full attention of senior management and directors. At the same time, shareholders continue to apply pressure on management to deliver strong financial performance. These challenges often seem overwhelming, while the industry also faces a shortage of the talent needed to deliver higher performance. As members of the Baby Boomer generation retire over the coming years, banks are challenged to fill key positions.

Today, many banks are just trading people, particularly among lenders with sizable portfolios. Many would argue the war for talent is more intense than ever. According to Bank Director’s 2017 Compensation Survey, retaining key talent is a top concern.

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To address this challenge, many banks have expanded their compensation program to include nonqualified benefit plans as well as link a significant portion of total compensation to the achievement of the bank’s strategic goals. Boards are focusing more on strategy, and providing incentives to satisfy both the bank’s year-to-year budget and its long-term strategic plan.

For example, if the strategic plan indicates an expectation that the bank will significantly increase its market share over a three-year period, compared to competition, then executive compensation should be based in part upon achieving that goal.

Achieving Strategic Goals
There are other compensation programs available to help a bank retain talented employees.

According to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. call report data and internal company research, nonqualified plans, such as supplemental executive retirement plans (SERPs) and deferred compensation plans, are widely used and are particularly important in community banks, where equity or equity-related plans such as stock options, restricted stock, phantom stock and stock appreciation plans are typically not used. These plans can enhance retirement benefits, and can be powerful tools to attract and retain key employees. “Forfeiture” provisions (also called “golden handcuffs”) encourage employees to stay with their present bank instead of leaving to work for a competitor.

SERPs
SERPs can restore benefits lost under qualified plans because of Internal Revenue Code limits. Regulatory rules restrict the amount that can be contributed to tax-deferred plans, like a 401(k). A common rule of thumb is that retirees will need 70 to 80 percent of their final pre-retirement income to maintain their standard of living during retirement. Highly compensated employees may only be able to replace 30 to 50 percent of their salary with qualified plans, creating a retirement income gap.

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To offset this gap, banks often pay annual benefits for 10 to 20 years after the individual retires, with 15 years being the most common. SERPs can have lengthy vesting schedules, particularly where the bank wishes to reinforce retention of executive talent.

Deferred Compensation Plans
We have also seen an increasing number of banks implement performance-based deferred compensation plans in lieu of stock plans. Defined as either a specific dollar amount or percentage of salary, bank contributions may be based on the achievement of measurable results such as loan growth, increased profitability and reduced problem assets. Typically, the annual contributions vest over 3 to 5 years, but could be longer.

While deferred compensation plans have historically been linked to retirement benefits, we see younger officers are often finding more value in cash distributions that occur before retirement age.

To attract and retain millennials in particular, more employers are expanding their benefit programs by offering a resource to help employees pay off their student loans. According to a survey commissioned by the communications firm Padilla, more than 63 percent of millennials have $10,000 or more in student debt. Deferred compensation plans can also be extended to millennials to help pay for a child’s college tuition or purchase a home. Because these shorter-term deferred compensation plans do not pay out if the officer leaves the bank, it provides a strong incentive for the officer to stay longer term.

Banks must compete with all types of organizations for talent, and future success depends on their ability to attract and retain key executives. The use of nonqualified plans, when properly chosen and correctly designed, can make a major impact on enhancing long-term shareholder value.

Insurance services provided by Equias Alliance, LLC, a subsidiary of NFP Corp. (NFP). Services offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member of FINRA/SIPC. Kestra IS is not affiliated with Equias Alliance, LLC or NFP.

BOLI Market to Remain Steady in 2018


BOLI-12-6-17.pngAs 2017 comes to a close, bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) continues to be an attractive investment alternative for banks, based on the increasing percentage of banks holding BOLI assets and the high retention rate of existing BOLI plans. Through the first half of 2017, BOLI carriers reported receiving almost $1.4 billion in new BOLI premiums, according to the market research firm IBIS Associates. Assuming an annualized production level of $2.8 billion, this is only slightly behind the actual full-year new premium results of $3.2 billion received in 2016.

In 2016, 91 percent of new premiums were invested in general account products, and through mid-year 2017, the results were very similar, with 84 percent of new BOLI premiums going to that product type. Cash surrender value of BOLI policies held by banks stood at $164.5 billion as of June 30, 2017, reflecting a 3.5 percent increase from $159 billion as of June 30, 2016, according to the Equias Alliance/Michael White Bank-Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) Holdings Report™. Further, the percentage of banks holding BOLI assets increased in that time period, from 61.3 percent to 62.8 percent. With that in mind, what can we expect of the BOLI market in 2018, given today’s economic and legislative landscape?

Impact of the Economy on BOLI in 2018
Overall, the economy generated some very positive results in 2017. Unemployment declined to just over 4 percent, the stock market hit several new highs, and wage growth increased, albeit slightly. However, banks and other financial institutions continue to operate in a low interest rate environment with no significant market change expected in 2018, based on a November 2017 informal survey that Equias conducted of major BOLI carriers.

To understand the impact of continued low interest rates on BOLI carriers offering fixed-income products, it is important to understand the carriers’ investment philosophies and portfolio compositions. The investment objective of most carriers is to build a diversified portfolio of securities with a long-term orientation that optimizes yield within a defined set of risk parameters. The portfolio strategy often targets investment-grade securities. Corporate bonds are usually the largest holding in the portfolio, along with commercial mortgages and mortgage backed securities, private placements, government and municipal bonds, a small percentage of junk bonds, and other holdings. Some of the carriers in our informal survey stressed they will be allocating more of the portfolio to higher quality bonds in 2018 to guard against any potential downturn in the economy in 2019 or 2020.

Continued low market interest rates will somewhat affect the credited interest rates offered by carriers on both new BOLI sales as well as existing BOLI policies. Credited interest rates and net yields (defined as the credited interest rate less the cost of insurance charges) on new BOLI purchases are currently expected to remain stable in 2018. As a result, new BOLI purchases are, once again, expected to be in the $3 billion to $3.5 billion range in 2018. We also anticipate that approximately 80 to 90 percent of new premiums will be directed to general accounts with higher interest rates.

For existing general account and hybrid separate account BOLI policies, credited interest rates are likely to remain level or decrease slightly, unless market interest rates begin to rise at a faster clip than we have seen in recent years.

Impact of Federal Legislation on BOLI in 2018
One of the key proposals under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed recently by both houses of Congress, is to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. If this were to occur, the taxable equivalent yields on BOLI policies would be slightly lower. For instance, if the net yield on a new BOLI policy was 3.5 percent, then the taxable equivalent yield on that policy would be 5.38 percent at the current federal tax rate of 35 percent, due to the favorable tax treatment that life insurance policies receive.

With the lower federal corporate tax rate under the proposed legislation, the tax equivalent yield for a 3.5 percent net yield BOLI policy would be reduced to a still attractive 4.38 percent. If the corporate tax rate ends up at 25 percent, as some predict, the tax equivalent yield would be 4.67 percent.

Looking ahead to 2018, the continuation of low interest rates and a possible reduction in the corporate tax rate may have some minor impact on BOLI sales and existing BOLI policies, but neither should result in any material impact on the BOLI market.

Compensation Strategies to Attract, Retain and Motivate Millennials


compensation-9-18-17.pngDistinguishing between retirement plans for a bank’s older executives and other key high performers and shorter-term incentives for its younger millennials, who are the bank leaders of the future, continues to be an important strategy for boards of directors. Compensation committees are willing to provide some type of mid-term incentive plan as a retention strategy focused on their younger workers. Boards also want to have both short- and long-term, performance-driven plans in place that are aligned with shareholder interests and retaining their key officers.

As with most employees, effective compensation plans and performance management programs can help attract, retain and motivate millennials. Providing a competitive base salary may not be at the top of their priority list, but certainly being rewarded for performance is important.

The next generation of leaders have been impacted by the recession, both from watching their relatives endure job loss and financial stress and from experiencing the post-recession economy directly. They are also the largest group carrying student loan debt. As a result, money is very important to them and while they may not be worrying about retirement, they are focusing on shorter term financial needs.

While millennials have essentially the same financial needs as the generations preceding them, their time horizon to retirement can be 30-plus years or more, which is too far into the future for them to focus on when faced with immediate financial planning decisions, like retiring student debt, purchasing a home and providing for their children’s education.

Nonqualified benefit plans including deferred compensation plans can be an effective tool for attracting and retaining most key bank performers—both those focused on retirement as well as more interim financial needs—because of their design flexibility. According to the American Bankers Association (ABA) 2016 Compensation and Benefits Survey, 64.5 percent of respondents offered some type of nonqualified deferred compensation plan for top management (chief executive officer, C-Level, executive vice president).

For this next generation of leaders, boards should consider a type of plan that allows for in-service distributions timed to coincide with events such as a child entering college. Plan payments made to the participant while still employed can be made at some future point such as three, five or 10 years.

These plans could be used in lieu of stock plans with a similar time duration and are important to younger leaders looking to shorter, more mid-term financial needs in a long-term incentive plan. Plans with provisions linking plan benefits to the long-term success of the bank can help increase bank performance and shareholder value as well as to reward key employees for longer-term performance. Defined as either a specific dollar amount or percentage of salary, bank contributions are discretionary or dependent on meeting budget or other performance goals. Interest can be credited to the account balance with a rate tied to either an external index or an internal index such as bank return on equity.

The plan can also include a provision that the account balance, or a portion thereof, is forfeited if the key employee goes to a competitor. In addition, it is typical to see events such as a change in control or disability accelerate vesting to 100 percent.

Let’s look at two examples, one for a retirement-based plan and the other for an in-service distribution to help pay for college expenses.

Assume that the bank contributes 8 percent of a $125,000 salary for a 37-year-old employee each year until age 65. At age 65, the participant will have $1,370,000 in total benefits, assuming a crediting rate equal to the bank’s return on assets, with an annual payment of $130,000 per year for 15 years. This same participant could also have had part of the benefit paid for out via in-service distributions to accommodate college expenses for two children. Assume there are two children ages three and seven and a desire to have $25,000 per year distributed for four years, for each child. Thus, these annual $25,000 distributions would be paid out when the employee was between the ages of 49 and 56. The remaining portion available for retirement would be an annual benefit of $78,000 for 15 years beginning at age 65.

Regardless of the participant’s distribution timing goals, both types of defined contribution plans can be tied to performance goals. The bank contribution percentage to each participant’s account could be based on some defined performance goal. Again, the ABA’s 2016 Compensation and Benefits Survey results showed that bonus amounts were based on several factors including: 85.6 percent bank; 74.9 percent individual; and 26 percent department/group. Aligning the bank’s strategic plan goals with the participant’s incentive plan provides a better outcome for both shareholder and participant.

In addition, many banks have implemented defined benefit type supplemental retirement plans as a way to retain and reward key executives. These plans can also be structured as performance based plans.

Regardless of a participant’s time horizon, it is important to reward both your older and younger leaders with compensation that is meaningful to them and will help them accomplish their personal financial objectives, while balancing the long-term interests of shareholders.

Managing Today’s Compensation Risk



Regulatory attention on incentive compensation is heightened following the Wells Fargo scandal, posing a greater burden to boards and management teams. Todd Leone and Gayle Appelbaum of McLagan, part of Aon plc, explain what tools banks should use to mitigate compensation risk and the questions boards should be asking about incentive compensation arrangements.

  • Increased Scrutiny on Compensation Plans
  • Tools to Mitigate Compensation Risk
  • Questions to Ask About Incentive Compensation
  • Balancing Compensation Risk with Attracting Talent

Dangling the Carrot: How Banks Can Approach Incentive Compensation


incentive-5-24-17.pngWith the dearth of talent at many community banks, particularly in the executive suite, it has become increasing important to make sure that key employees stay put and not pack their bags for the competitor down the street. It is one thing to tie up these executives with non-competition and non-solicitation restrictions, but finding that delicate balance between appropriately protecting the bank’s interests and over-reaching, thereby running the risk of unenforceability, can often be tricky. In addition, adopting a carefully drafted incentive compensation plan can have the benefit of not only improving executive loyalty, but also encouraging revenue-enhancing or other desirable behaviors.

Cash or Equity?
Each employee may be motivated by different things, so it is often difficult to gauge what will have the biggest impact from an incentive perspective. There a few things, however, that should be kept in mind in evaluating this decision:

  • Cash has the advantage of immediate gratification. Equity awards are often subject to vesting requirements and can be difficult to monetize due to the virtually non-existent markets for most community banks’ stock.
  • Because of the vesting requirement of equity, such awards have the advantage of providing a longer-term benefit to the bank, in that executives will be loath to leave while they hold unvested equity awards.
  • It can be difficult for both the bank and the executive to value equity awards, given the lack of an efficient market for the shares.
  • Any time stock is issued by a bank holding company, it must be issued pursuant to a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or an appropriate exemption must be available. The most common exemption for equity incentive awards is Rule 701, which requires awards to be issued, among other things, pursuant to written compensatory plans.

Appropriate Triggers
There are endlessly creative ways that community banks and their compensation consultants use to determine incentive compensation awards. So much of this is driven by the types of behaviors that the bank desires to encourage. However, there are a few things to keep in mind as you decide how to design your particular plan:

  • Beware of the Wells Fargo effect. While it is not uncommon to tie awards to achieving certain revenue and sales metrics, it is important to have appropriate controls and/or claw back policies in place to recoup pay and discourage overly aggressive sales practices.
  • Avoid tying incentives to confidential supervisory information. Many banks want to tie incentive compensation to achieving certain examination findings or CAMELS ratings. However, regulators have consistently stated this is inappropriate on a number of levels, not the least of which is that they do not appreciate being one of the deciding factors in whether an executive gets a bonus or not.

Other Do’s and Don’ts

  • Revisit plans that have been in place for a while to ensure that they are Section 409A compliant. Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code sets forth certain rules regarding the timing of deferrals and distributions with which non-qualified deferred compensation must comply. Non-compliance could have significant negative tax consequences on the employee and, potentially, the bank.
  • The worst time to adopt a new incentive compensation plan, particularly one that contains change-in-control provisions, is right before the board decides to put the bank up for sale. Doing so may be perceived by shareholders as a breach of the board’s fiduciary duties.
  • If any of the bank’s mortgage loan originators are included in the pool of executives entitled to participate in the executive compensation plan, additional attention will need to be given to ensure that any awards granted under the plan do not run afoul of the loan original compensation restrictions set forth in Regulation Z.

While it is certainly a good idea to make sure your most valuable assets—your executives—are protected, there are a lot of variables to consider in putting together incentive compensation plans, which should be carefully crafted to achieve the bank’s objectives while avoiding unintended consequences.

Surging Stock Prices and Your Long-Term Incentive Strategy


incentive-3-6-17.pngWith the Trump administration, investors are anticipating an easing in banking regulations and modest increases in interest rates. Accordingly, the market response to Trump’s election sent bank stock prices surging. From election to year-end, the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods NASDAQ Banking Index, which is made up of money center banks, as well as regional banks and thrifts, was up 22 percent, alongside a very strong 7 percent increase in the S&P 500. Full year returns were even better, and they were better for many smaller banks as well. For example, banks with total assets between $1 billion and $10 billion saw returns of 20 percent to 65 percent.

In our experience, large swings in stock prices trigger important design considerations for long-term incentive grant strategies and grant policies.

Long-term Incentive Strategies—Target Value Versus Fixed Share
Long-term incentive strategies among banks typically incorporate the use of full-value awards, such as restricted stock or performance shares, or stock options.

There are two common approaches used to determine the number of shares granted under equity awards—a target value approach and a fixed share approach.

  • Target value approach: The bank targets a specific award “fair value.” Thus, as stock prices surge, the number of shares granted is reduced to deliver the same grant value. Conversely, when stock prices decline, more shares are granted. This is the most common method for determining the number of shares awarded.
  • Fixed share approach: The bank targets a specified number of shares. Thus, as stock prices surge, the fair value of the award also increases. The volatility in grant value is one of the reasons this approach is less common.

No matter the approach used, sudden surges in stock prices will result in significant changes in either the number of shares granted or the fair value of the award, assuming no adjustments are made to the grant strategies. For example, the increase in stock prices over the past year for banks with assets between $1 billion and $10 billion will likely result in a 16 to 40 percent decline in shares delivered through a target value approach or a 20 to 65 percent increase in fair values at banks utilizing a fixed share approach.

The advantages in delivering equity through a target value approach include providing tighter controls over the accounting expense of long-term incentive programs, a clearer understanding of the award value to the participant, greater consistency in disclosed compensation values for proxy-reported officers, and maintaining alignment with competitive market compensation levels. However, when stock prices surge, no matter the cause, the resulting reduction in shares under a target value approach may be perceived as a so-called performance penalty by participants. Your participants in the plan might wonder, “The stock price went up and you cut my shares?”

Alternatively, under the fixed share approach the increase in the fair value of the award may result in higher compensation expense, greater variability of disclosed compensation, and compensation levels that are positioned higher relative to the market than the bank’s stated compensation philosophy.

Considerations
In light of the potential variability in grant values or the number of shares issued, banks should thoroughly review the impact of recent stock price changes on their long-term incentive grant strategies to avoid unintended consequences.

Target value programs can be adjusted through an increase in the value delivered or revisions to the approach used to determine shares, or a combination of these two approaches. Generally, an increase in the value delivered would not correspond directly with the increase in stock price, for example award values would increase 20 to 30 percent of the gain in stock price. In adjusting the approach used to determine the number of shares issued, banks can use an average stock price (for example, 90 to 150 days) rather than the price on the date of grant.

Conversely, fixed share programs would be adjusted to reduce the grant value through a reduction in the number of shares issued. For example, shares granted would be reduced by 10 percent to 15 percent of the gain in share price.

In all cases, the impact of adjustments to long-term incentive strategies on total compensation should be evaluated against market compensation and share utilization levels as well as the bank’s stated compensation philosophy. Further, the rationale for adjusting long-term incentive strategies should be communicated clearly to program participants.

Is Your Bank Ready for the CEO Pay Ratio Disclosure?


ceo-pay-ratio-1-4-17.pngStarting with the 2018 proxy statement (covering fiscal year 2017), most public companies will be required to start reporting their CEO pay ratio, that is, the ratio of the CEO’s pay to the median of all other employees’ pay. While it is questionable whether the CEO pay ratio disclosure will be a truly meaningful or useful figure to aid shareholders understanding of a company’s compensation practices, the new disclosure is likely to be a focus of both the media and shareholder activists. Directors and management should be aware of how their CEO pay ratio compares to peers and how it may change from year to year. The good news is that banks are expected to produce lower CEO pay ratios compared to companies in other industries. However, as with any new process, this will require time and planning.

Here are some questions to ask to see if your bank is ready.

1. Do you know how your CEO pay ratio will compare to the market?
To avoid surprises, know where your CEO pay ratio fits in with similar sized banks. McLagan’s research shows that the estimated CEO pay ratio ranges from 10 to 67, depending on asset size for banks under $30 billion in assets. Business focus also matters. Retail-focused banks tend to have a higher ratio as compared to non-retail focused banks as a result of lower median employee compensation (about 20 percent lower on average). Start planning your communications strategy to proactively consider employee concerns and press coverage. You’ll also need to evaluate the need for supplemental disclosure in the proxy statement if your CEO pay ratio is outside the norm.

Bank CEO Pay Ratio Information
CEO Pay Ratio Chart.PNG

2. Does the CEO pay ratio apply to my bank?
If you are a smaller reporting or an emerging growth company, you do not need to report the CEO pay ratio. However, even if you are not required to disclose the ratio publicly, your board may want to know how your CEO compares to the market.

3. How do I determine who is included in my employee population?
Employees are identified based upon any date within the last three months of the year. It must include all full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees (including subsidiary employees and potentially, independent contractors). While the date flexibility is less of a benefit for banks, this may simplify the process for some companies, such as those in the retail industry who have significant seasonal employees.

4. Is there flexibility in the methodology used to calculate the median employee?
Yes, W2 data, cash compensation, or some other consistently applied compensation measure can be used. In addition, the time period for measuring compensation does not have to include the date on which the employee population is determined. Keep in mind that decisions regarding specific methodologies may affect the resulting median and may require additional disclosure.

5. Can I use estimates?
Yes, reasonable estimates and sampling can be used; however, the methodology and assumptions must be disclosed. Regardless of the method used, ensure that your process is reliable, repeatable and able to be explained in the proxy. This is not likely a benefit for wholly owned U.S.-based banks with centralized human resource information or payroll systems.

6. How often is the disclosure required?
Annually; however, the median employee may be updated every three years, provided the employee population has not changed significantly. Banks on an acquisition path may need to update the median employee each year.

7. Can all my data providers supply the information I will need and on time?
Do your due diligence now to determine your data requests from payroll vendors, stock reporting systems, benefits providers, actuaries for retirement plan accruals, etc. The time and resources to comply could be substantial and working through the various decisions and establishing a methodology ahead of time will make for a smoother process in 2018.

In summary, don’t assume your CEO pay ratio calculation will be quick and easy. Getting started now will allow time to provide education and manage expectations. Be proactive to ensure your methodology is well tested to be ready for implementation in your 2018 proxy statement.

What Does the Wells Fargo Debacle Mean for Incentive-Based Compensation?


incentive-pay-10-31-16.pngWith all of the recent press coverage from the Wells Fargo & Co. phony account scandal, you’d have to be living in a cave not to have heard about it. As the details come to light, I’m certain it will be a test case for how not to design an incentive-based compensation program. But, does it mean that incentive-based compensation is a bad thing? In my opinion, a properly designed program can be well within the measure of safety and soundness, can create proper inducements for the appropriate segment of your workforce, and, can avoid creating the negative results that were realized by Wells Fargo.

In our firm, Bank Compensation Consulting, one of the most common short-term, incentive-based compensation designs has at its heart a deferral component. When a participant obtains a bonus based on achieving the goals set forth in the design, all or a portion of that bonus is deferred until some point in the future, say, five years from earning it. The deferral component accomplishes a number of goals. For one, it creates a reason for the participating employee to continue to remain employed with the bank If the employee leaves the bank prior to receiving the deferral amount, it is forfeited. Also, it allows the bank to comply with clawback rules requested by the regulators. Since the unvested portion has not yet been remitted, it can more easily be “clawed back” should there be a violation of terms outlined in the plan document.

Would this deferral design have helped in the Wells Fargo situation? As of this writing, the answer to that question is unclear. I will say that, when I consider how many years I’ve been working with banks and non-financial institutions to implement incentive-based compensation programs, and I consider how many of those haven’t had the result that Wells Fargo has, I think the answer is clear. As a CPA who did his requisite time at one of the large accounting firms, I have to ask myself questions like: What types of internal controls exist at Wells Fargo? What management oversight is in place to ensure an employee can’t easily create a fake account? Weren’t there ‘red flags’? Certainly, when your inventory is cash, there is always an element of temptation that some people simply cannot overcome. But, the sheer volume of the fraudulent accounts created indicates, at least to me, that at some level Wells Fargo management was sending the wrong message to the staffers involved. The corporate culture in the division of Wells Fargo where this took place must have played an enormous role.

The fact that an incentive-based compensation program existed shouldn’t mean that its utilization was the culprit that induced employees to create fraudulent accounts. For me and my colleagues, we feel that the malleability of such programs is extremely advantageous when trying to encourage certain actions by one or a group of employees. However, care and experience should be used when creating a safe and sound incentive-based compensation design.

You might just want to get inside a cave if you were an executive at Wells Fargo right now. Designing an effective and safe incentive-based compensation program and making sure it’s implemented correctly is one way to avoid the glare of bad publicity.