Belfast Telegraph

Bankers need to stop moaning about their pay

By James Moore

Is the collective noun for bankers a whinge of? It certainly looks that way. You might think that Jamie Dimon would be rather cheerful.

After all, the boss of JPMorgan made $23m (£14m) in 2011, which might explain why he chose to stress the importance of "compensation" in a letter to shareholders.

Those shareholders might like to reflect on the fact that while Mr Dimon's 2011 remuneration package was up 11%, the value of their investments declined by around twice that. Perhaps that's why he's not jumping for joy and is instead spitting fury about regulators.

JPMorgan, you see, is a philanthropic social welfare organisation. A force for good that hires veterans and raises cash for voluntary groups. Even when it charges gazillions for advising clients on mergers they really oughtn't to do (most mergers and acquisitions are a disaster for investors), his people do it with a smile.

If only the regulators wouldn't keep getting in the way of all this. Yes, as with so many bankers, Mr Dimon wants to have his cake and eat it. When it comes to the need for change he says "we get it" while bitterly criticising the most important reforms. One of those is the Volker rule, which seeks to keep banks off the green baize of the financial casino by banning them from proprietary trading. It has apparently been terribly badly written, but what does Mr Dimon expect when the feedback from banks has hardly been constructive?

Then there is the conflict between those in regulation who tell banks to build up capital and politicians who scream for more lending. There is an easy answer for that one, although Mr Dimon doesn't mention it. He would still be on mega-bucks if his remuneration were cut in half. But his bank would have more money available to lend because its capital base would be stronger. Ultimately shareholders would benefit and so would the US (and, for that matter, the global) economy.

Lower compensation ratios across the banking industry would help to solve the dilemma, as no less an authority than the Bank of England has stated. And again, shareholders, the economy, and all of us would be the long-term beneficiaries. Maybe JPMorgan would be a social welfare organisation after all. Unfortunately Mr Dimon, his colleagues and his competitors would much rather keep the money in their pockets and instead crank up the lobbying.

Mr Dimon has previously made unfavourable comparisons of the compensation ratios found in banks with those found in media organisations, whose journalists have criticised him.

However, where those institutions differ from his is that the former don't operate with effective state guarantees. The consequences of one of them failing is that people lose their jobs. The consequences of a JPMorgan failing don't bear thinking about.

Everyone would suffer, and even after a wealth of regulatory reforms it couldn't be allowed to happen. That is why just about everyone outside banking gets very angry about the pay of bankers like Mr Dimon. Not to mention their incessant carping.