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Highest-Paid Banker in Britain Warns Against Compensation Caps

Tuesday, 11 Jan 2011 | 4:05 PM ET
Bob Diamond
CNBC.com
Bob Diamond

Robert Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays Bank —and the highest-paid banker in the United Kingdom—took to the barricades to defend the right of bankers to be compensated with eye-popping sums.

Today in London, Diamond told the House of Commons: "The biggest issue is putting the blame game behind us. The time for remorse is over."

(You have to wonder: How on earth does Diamond's speechwriter keep his job? "The time for remorse is over" is as much of the bull's-eye as it is a prefabricated headline: I mean, Have Diamond's PR team ever met a journalist?)

Diamond goes on to make precisely the arguments one would expect him to make—and where you land on the interpretation of his remarks is a kind of Rorschach test for how you feel about the topic.

Here are the greatest hits—from the Financial Times:

"He [Diamond] reaffirmed the bank's commitment to the UK—'this is the place we want to succeed, it is great for business, for attracting talent and raising capital' - but he warned that prohibiting the payment of bonuses could drive institutions overseas."

More specifically, on the issue of compensation/regulatory arbitrage, Diamond went on to say: "Barclays had to be able to 'benchmark performance and compensation' with global rivals such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan , he said. 'The other option is that you don't have investment banks located in the UK.'

Whether or not Diamond will gain any traction with that argument is anyone's guess.

Anger in the U.K. against bankers may be even higher than it is here in the United States.

One example of why: The Royal Bank of Scotland is currently 83 percent owned by the British government.

(Not to mention the unmentionable: Banker compensation in the U.K. seems perpetually tinged by the ubiquitous British subtext of social class. But, as the kids say, 'We won't go there'.)

That anger notwithstanding, one can imagine the perils of populism run amok.

The scenario of a dramatically underbanked Britain would likely be enough to make even the most passionate partisan of Labor pine for the bad old days of conspicuous consumption: The only thing worse than a massively hypertrophied British financial services sector is a massively atrophied British financial services sector.

The kabuki theater of righteous rage in England over banker compensation plays a little bit like America Lite.

(Note: The New York Times DealBook has an embedded video from Reuters of Diamond being grilled like a shell steak by the MPs. It's an amusing bit of video, if you have the time.)

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