September 2018 will see the ten year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, often seen as the starting pistol for the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). In the immediate aftermath, banking and financial services were subject to intense scrutiny by the media, politicians, and the general public alike – ‘banker bashing’ emerged in popular culture, and the industry and its professionals became the reified symbol of society’s ills; representative of greed and corruption.
In the US, President Obama introduced a major overhaul of regulation with the Dodd-Frank Act, which included limiting the compensation of executives of banks the government rescued, though the cap was not absolute; compensation above $500,000 could be paid in stock that would not vest until the firm has paid back the bailout. Across the Atlantic, the legacy of the GFC has left Europe and the UK with one of the strictest bonus regimes in the world. In 2014 the “EU Bonus Cap” took effect, which limits the awards of ‘material’ risk takers to 100 percent of fixed pay, unless shareholders especially approved a 200% threshold. Furthermore, the UK introduced claw-back rules that span back a decade.
In July 2017, a survey from YouGov found that the general public still held damning views towards financial services. Nearly a third (30%) of respondents to the poll answered “not at all” when asked “to what extent… do you think big banks have learned the lessons of the 2008… crash?” A further 42% said, “not very much”.
In this climate of public scrutiny and political intervention, it’s no wonder that employee satisfaction has fallen. In Spring 2017, pay data firm Emolument published the results of their two-year study: they measured the ‘happiness’ of bankers at six global behemoths, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and found that the proportion of employees who said they were happy dropped at five of the banks and remained static at one. Interestingly, however, there seemed to be little correlation between their happiness and their bonus, despite a large bonus round in 2016, the majority were still unhappy; partially due to the lack of transparency over how their remuneration was decided, creating a culture of paranoia and suspicion.
However, a lot can change in a year. 2017 has seen unprecedented levels of social and political upheaval: the US elected an unelectable President, the UK voted for an unwinnable referendum. In these turbulent times, when it comes to surveying opinion, the results have barely come in when there's a radical shift in context. Trump's administration and his allies in Congress are taking aim at the Dodd-Frank Act as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In October, the Treasury released a report that "examined the capital markets system to identify regulations that are standing in the way of economic growth and capital formation". While in the UK, there is much contention whether there will be a "bonfire of regulations" after Brexit, or whether it's important to keep in-line with Brussels to retain access to the single market. While Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, argued that deregulation is on the table, the European Commission made it clear that investment banks in Britain will have to stick close to EU rules on issues such as bonus caps.
Situated in this mercurial landscape, with the advent of the ten year anniversary of the Global Financial Crisis looming, we are conducting research to establish how professionals in banking and financial services feel attitudes towards and within the industry have transformed, if at all, and to look ahead to its future. Our report will be published in Spring 2018.
Mark Carney has presented a menu of EU regulations that the UK could roll back after Brexit, suggesting that a cap on bankers’ bonuses, an element of insurance regulation and the full weight of rules on challenger banks and building societies could all be removed.