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Swedish banks still paying cash bonuses, but employees are looking for more

Swedish banks may have been ignoring EU guidelines when it comes the the make-up of bonus payments, but the big players have largely been unwilling to pay greater sums in variable compensation this year.

The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority has revealed that the majority of the 41 companies it surveyed have failed to implement EU guidelines around bonuses that have been in place since the beginning of 2011.

These include a range of measures which attempt to link remuneration more closely with a more prudent risk profile of the banking sector, including deferrals, clawbacks and a greater proportion of bonuses being paid in stock.

But the major Nordic banks have been comparatively reserved when it comes to bonus payments this year.

SEB’s 107% hike in short-term payouts and 100% quarterly rise for its merchant bankers has left it very much the exception to the rule, and a key question for recruiters in the months to come will be whether or how its robust approach will affect the hiring landscape.

By comparison, while Swedbank did raise its bonus pool in 2010, to SEK340m from SEK215m at the same point in 2009, the fact it has also extensively modified its programme to ensure a greater portion of variable cash remuneration is converted into deferred, restricted shares meant costs for its “Remuneration program 2010” were a more modest SEK40m more than 2009’s figure.

Moreover, of the SEK255m allocated for 2010, SEK214m was paid in cash (so virtually identical to the 2009 figure) and SEK172m as deferred share-based remuneration.

And with Nordea, Danske and Handelsbanken all proving pretty austere in their bonus outlook, other factors beyond bonuses are becoming more important in governing when people decide to jump ship, say recruiters.

Bonuses are, and will of course remain, an important part of the hiring and recruitment mix, argues Wictor Bonde, recruitment consultant and head of banking and financial services at Michael Page in Stockholm.

But remuneration is increasingly becoming just one conversation among many.

“If you are in banking or financial services within Sweden, you are basically already working in a sector that pays some of the best salaries in the country,” says Bonde.

“So if the laws and regulations change, or if everyone adapts to a changing climate, then really what you will find is that the effect is the same everywhere. People who are solely driven by money and benefits are likely to locate outside Sweden,” he adds.

“Softer” issues, such as career or personal development or compensation for lost benefits or insurances incurred by a move are therefore now coming more into the equation.

“People are starting to become more picky. They are, yes, talking about money but that is not the only consideration. There are other aspects that are playing an increasingly important part, such as future opportunities, training and the company’s outlook and culture,” he says.

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