Unless you work for Goldman Sachs – where last year’s deferrals seemed to be nominal, or for UBS – where bonuses up to CHF250k were paid in cash – you’ve probably accumulated a quantity of deferred bonuses with your current employer.
Equally, if you to move to another bank and walk away from that deferred stock, you’ll probably expect to be compensated for its loss. You’ll probably want a buyout.
If you’re a senior banker, this may no longer be possible.
Last month, the FSA released a little-publicised update to its guidance on remuneration.
Buried within is are interesting points on guarantees and buyouts.
Fundamentally they say this: if a bank is hiring someone earning more than 500k in total compensation (or is hiring someone earning less than 500k, whose bonus accounts for more than a third of a total), they will only be able to buy out bonuses for a, “low percentage of new hires.”
Meaning: Most new hires earning more than 500k will be expected to forego all their deferred stock when they move.
Lawyers specialising in financial services remuneration say this has come as a bit of a surprise.
“They appear to be saying that you can’t buyout a bonus as a matter of course for everyone,” says Sam Whitaker, executive compensation and employee benefits specialist at Shearman & Sterling.
“This doesn’t square with the message that the FSA has been giving in some conferences and town-hall meetings,” he adds.
Strange assumption from the EU
Lawyers say the European Union – from which the rules ultimately originate – is behind the buyout restrictions.
“The European Union seemed to have the expectation that the continued employment requirement for holding stock would be relaxed,” says Liz Pierson, a senior associate in the employment, pensions and benefits department at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Relaxing the continued employment requirement would imply that a banker with $5m in deferred stock who moves to Credit Suisse, would be able to keep his Goldman stock at his new employer, creating a significant conflict of interest.
This isn’t going to happen. But nor are people going to walk away from a substantial portion of deferred stock.
So what next? “Further guidance in this area may be helpful, especially given the FSA has indicated to some that this requirement would be relaxed,” says Pierson.