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Danske Bank braves public anger with 14% bonus hike

Bonus payments for Danske Bank traders rose 14% last year, as the bank paid out nearly DKr840m (€112.3m) in performance-related compensation.

The figures emerged as the bank posted group profits for last year of DKr1.7bn (€200m), up from DKr1bn (€134m) in 2008, figures described by chief executive Peter Straarup as “unsatisfactory”, though he added it was “encouraging” the bank had still managed to achieve a profit “in a year marked by a drastic economic downturn”.

The size of payouts are likely to cause controversy in the wake of Swedbank’s decision last week to cancel its 2009 bonus payments because of the rising public anger over banking pay.

Danske, which emphasised it had suspended bonuses for board level executives last year as well as scrapping its cash bonus programme, stressed it had taken the decision not to scrap bonuses within its Danske Markets and Danske Capital divisions because they operated in “highly competitive international markets”.

“Variable pay to risk takers is based on performance over a period of years, and disbursement of a portion of the amount is deferred,” it added.

The bank also stressed it had adjusted its remuneration practices “in accordance with international recommendations”, as well as downgrading the relative level of performance-based compensation last year.

The vast majority of the payouts were to traders working within the bank’s Danske Markets division, which saw income treble over the year.

Salary expenses in total for the bank in 2009 were DKr12.5bn (€1.68bn), or half of its operating costs, said chief financial officer Tonny Thierry Andersen.

“Variable compensation represents 6.7% of this. The item consists mainly of performance-based compensation in our capital markets units,” he added.

Danske Capital reported staff expenses up just 1%, in part because of higher severance payments on the back of the integration of Danske Invest Management, which it bought in May 2008.

The bank also revealed it had reduced staff levels by 6% last year, though it did not split this down by division, with the total number of full-time staff at now just over 22,000.

Next week attention will turn to how Nordea and SEB intend to respond to Swedbank’s challenge on bonuses.

Nordea, which is set to report its 2009 figures next Wednesday, has already said it will pay out SEK2.8bn (€276m) in bonuses, arguing it cannot afford to scale back payments without risking losing top talent. SEB is due to release its figures on the same day.

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