Senior bankers at Royal Bank of Scotland are in line to share a multimillion-pound bonus windfall, in a move that risks stoking another pay row at the bailed-out bank in the wake of the £390m Libor fine.
The five staff in question are members of a core management team selected by Stephen Hester, the RBS chief executive, who is already facing criticism for the £780,000 share award he is due to receive from his 2010 bonus next month.
The fresh round of share payments – which could be worth as much as £6m if they pay out in full – are the product of long-term incentive plans put in place in 2010 and which run for three years, ending on 14 May this year.
The incentive plans are one of three components of pay for senior executives, on top of their salaries and annual bonus awards.
Decisions are yet to be made on the precise number of shares that will be released to members of Hester's management committee and little information has been provided about the performance criteria attached to them.
The criteria attached to share awards made at the same time in 2010 to Hester and the RBS finance director, Bruce van Saun, indicate that they will miss out on share awards worth £3m and £1.8m respectively because the bank's share price and financial performance have fallen short of the required levels.
If the bonuses to the five other RBS bankers were to pay out in full, the executive who runs the US arm of RBS, Ellen Alemany, could be in line for approximately £2.1m from the release of two awards of shares.
Nathan Bostock, who runs the non-core assets of RBS, stands to receive shares worth £1.2m, while Paul Geddes, who now runs the Direct Line insurance subsidiary, could receive stock worth £800,000. Chris Sullivan, the head of business banking, would be awarded shares worth up to £900,000, and the senior banker Ron Teerlink would receive stock valued at £1m.
According to disclosures on the London Stock Exchange, the shares will pay out against "financial and operational performance" and "effective" risk management. They are unlikely to pay out in full, however.
The bank is clawing back bonuses to pay the part of the £390m Libor fine that is going to US authorities, amounting to £300m.
The bank's chairman, Philip Hampton, has made clear that Hester's annual bonus for 2010 will not be included in that clawback. Hester was handed £2m in shares in 2010 and part of that will pay out next month in shares worth £780,000.
Last week Hampton defended Hester's pay, telling parliamentarians on the banking standards commission that it was "relatively modest". He said the chief executive was paid "well below the market rate of people working in banking" because his bonuses had not paid out.
Hester also defended his pay to the commission, saying the nation was now "off the hook" for a lot of "bad things" of the past. "My bonus should be assessed on all the things I do well and badly, and judgment should be reached in the round," he said.
While Hester looks likely to keep his annual bonus for 2010 – the only one he has received since joining after the £45bn taxpayer bailout – the award of the equivalent of around 85,000 shares under the incentive plan in 2010 looks likely to lapse.
Those shares were due to be released to him on 14 May this year. They are worth £3m at Friday's share price of £3.50. The release is linked to a review of the bank's risk, financial targets and share price targets. In order to pay out in full the plan requires the share price to be above £7.50.
The actual amounts released to the five members of Hester's top team will be decided in the coming weeks and their value will depend on the share price in May.
Hester waived his bonuses for 2012 after an IT meltdown in June, and next month the bank's annual report will provide more detail about pay policies for last year. It is not yet know whether his counterpart at bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio, will receive a bonus for 2012. His award could be linked to the share price breaking 74p, the price at which the taxpayer breaks even on its 40% stake.
The potential RBS payouts come amid fresh speculation about the government's plans to extricate itself from its 82% stake in the bank, which is currently worth £13bn less than the taxpayer paid for it. The chancellor, George Osborne, has played down reports that he plans to give RBS shares worth up to £400 to every voter or taxpayer before the next general election.
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