Europe News

RBS to Press on With Promised Bonuses

Patrick Jenkins and Megan Murphy, Financial Times

Royal Bank of Scotland is determined to press ahead with plans to pay out promised bonuses to investment bank boss John Hourican and other top staff, despite growing rhetoric from the government about excessive pay.

Sharon Lorimer

The Financial Times reported on Monday that RBS investment banking boss Mr Hourican is in line for a 4 million pounds payout under the terms of a deferred grant of shares from 2009, further escalating tensions with the government. The grant comes as RBS’s investment bank – like many others – is struggling to make money, with thousands of jobs set to be axed.

RBS, which is 83 percent owned by taxpayers, has long been the focal point of government ire over banker pay. A tussle is underway with UKFI, which manages the government’s stake, about the overall bonus pool RBS wants to pay its investment bankers, with the tally set to be halved to less than 500 million pounds.

The pay row is the latest evidence of a widening rift between RBS’s controversial investment banking business and the government, with bankers slamming ministerial interference.

Shortly before Christmas, chancellor George Osborne told RBS it should “scale back [its] risky activities”, infuriating investment bankers at RBS.

“The fact that the chancellor made a statement about us in the House [of Commons] was very destabilising,” said one.

The news comes as RBS prepares to announce details on Thursday of its plan to shrink the investment bank, exiting core areas such as equities and mergers and acquisitions advice.

People close to the plan said about 5,000 job cuts were likely to be outlined, although 2,000 of those were implemented in the fourth quarter of last year. Senior bankers say that number could rise further, possibly to as much as 10,000 over the next two years in a worst-case scenario, if RBS is unable to sell certain businesses as planned and is forced to close them down.

The issue of Mr Hourican’s pay is not expected to be addressed on Thursday, with the group’s remuneration committee left to finalise the payout before it vests in April.

The bank has so far refused to disclose whether Mr Hourican has met the long-term targets associated with that award. However, people familiar with the package said it would be difficult for the bank’s remuneration committee to justify a significant reduction, based on his performance and the profitability of the global banking and markets division over the past three years, although a more modest cut is possible.

Mr Hourican is unlikely to waive any award that is ultimately approved by RBS’s board, according to people familiar with his thinking, potentially setting up another showdown between the bank and senior politicians, including the Prime Minister David Cameron.