Regulators’ salaries across Asia Pacific vary enormously:some supervisors earn fortunes and others hit the pay scale at the average to low end.
Some governments believe that paying politicians and civil servants high salaries should reduce the likelihood of them accepting a bribe, offered in cash or disguised as a gift. Others argue that financial regulators will be less likely to jump ship and work for a bank if they are paid competitively by the government. Some countries pay their banking regulators on the same modest scale as other government employees , pitting them against some of the highest paid people in the country - bankers.
Last April, we found out how much the head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority brings home; Norman Chan Tak-lam was set to earn HKD$9.41m(USD1.2m), making him the highest paid central bank chief in the world. As the HKMA is also the banking regulator, this makes Chan Tak-lam the biggest earning regulator in the world. Chan Tak-lam’s counterpart in Beijing, Shang Fulin, the head of China Banking Regulatory Commission, earns an estimated CNY11,271 (USD1,800) per month.
The accompanying infographic details more of APAC banking regulators’ earnings.
Comparing regulators salaries with those of bankers reveals a stark difference. Since the global financial crisis took hold in 2008, we have seen a distinct change of attitude towards financial institutions. Blatant rule breaking by banks - whether money laundering, sanctions busting or tax evasion - is being punished in high-profile cases as regulators finally start to show their teeth. However, the impact on the individuals responsible have been unremarkable; a move to a less high-profile role in the bank, or early retirement as opposed to job loss or, as some have called for, criminal prosecution.
Rather than going after the bankers who allowed criminality to go unchecked at banks, or those who made good from the financial crisis, there is an element of maintaining the status quo vis a vis bankers’ salaries that is out of step with the movement to make change for the better in the financial sector.
In the post global financial crisis and post public bailout economy, can banks justify paying million dollar bonuses?
In February 2015, Ross McEwen, the head of RBS, went on record to defend bonuses for bankers in spite of government bailouts and losses:
"I need to be fair paying for our people so I can actually keep them onboard."
Although McEwen has opted to hand back his personal GBP1m (USD1.5m) share award to the bank he will still take home an expected GBP2.7m (USD4m) in 2015. Peter Sands, the outgoing boss of Standard Chartered also waived his bonus in 2015.
Looking at Asia Pacific, four of China’s largest five banks made the Banker’s Almanac list of top ten biggest financial institutions. This includes Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank Corporation, Agricultural Bank of China Limited and Bank of China. China Development Bank Corporation languished at no. 21 on the list.
“According to the half-year annual reports of the listed commercial banks, the average annual payment before deductions for the chairmen of the five biggest Chinese commercial banks was around 2 million yuan ($325,600).”Source:The Global Times 2014.
Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS bank, Singapore’s largest, made SGD9.2m (USD 6.6m)
The CEOs of United Overseas Bank and Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation were not far behind.
Chief regulators salaries fall far short of those earned by their peers at regulated entities.
It’s unlikely they will ever be measured on the same scale. Regulators, in an ideal world, would be motivated by doing the right thing for the right reasons. That is certainly the message that some regulators are putting across. But banking is all about money, and the more you earn, the higher your status.