In the case of RBS, the bank owes its continued existence to UKFI – the U.K. government's investment vehicle used to invest in failing banks - and has yet to resume paying dividends. "An increase to the bonus cap cannot be justified and the government made clear it would not have supported such a proposal," the Treasury said in a statement.
For Barclays, if enough shareholders decide, as one small shareholder said at the annual general meeting, that they are "paying for Manchester United and getting Colchester United," and offload their shares, the pressure on management will build.
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The comparison between paying for executives or traders and expensive top flight footballers is often, and wrongly, made. After all, footballers are pretty unique specimens physically and mentally, and have a limited time frame in which to make as much money as possible before injury or old age cut their careers short. Bright young graduates, who can be trained to make reasonable returns from foreign exchange or bonds trading, are rather easier to locate than the next David Beckham.
Football clubs inspire much more genuine loyalty through good times and bad in fans than companies do in their shareholders. And, of course, footballers regularly receive and deal with much worse heckling than bankers - although we have yet to see a bank executive deal with rowdy shareholders the Cantona karate kick way.
In an era where shareholder activism is increasingly powerful, all board members will have to be on guard.