Time to apply the handcuffs

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Tied in to your existing employer? You're not alone.

A survey conducted by Ernst & Young has found leading employers are opting to defer the payment of short-term incentives such as bonuses in a bid to keep their best executives for longer.

The survey found that 40% to 50% of larger companies, including banks and financial services groups, were now likely to defer bonuses - which in the case of leading investment banks average some two thirds of total compensation.

Ian Wilson, of executive search firm Boyden Partners, has seen the trend grow considerably in the financial services sector over the past 12 months: "Companies are using all sorts of measures to keep good people," he says. "It's common sense that handcuff arrangements should be part of that."

Most of the deferrals apply to cash bonus payments, up to 50% of which are reportedly being held back. Companies are also said to be looking at different ways of strapping staff in, with the use of additional equity, for example.

"They are all looking to create something unique and innovative to keep their talent," says John Banks, from Talent2 International, noting the use of deferred bonuses, as well as share incentives, profit sharing and other tax-effective inducements.

The only problem is that while bonuses are being deferred on one side, prospective employers appear just as happy to 'buy out' the bonus when they seek to hire good staff. "It's like any equation - when one side gets boosted, the natural process of arbitrage occurs and the other side gets boosted as well," comments Wilson.

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