Have a guess how many people at Barclays earned more than £1m last year? Could it be 100? No, it must be more. HSBC revealed 192 in its ranks in 2011 and Barclays is much bigger in investment banking, which is where the real money is made. So 300? Or 500? Even more?
All will be revealed next week. Sir David Walker, Barclays' new chairman, has decided that the bank should adopt the transparent approach on pay that he once advised for all banks. So the annual report will give tallies within bands, including one for those earning £1m and above. That's in line with the disclosure regime he suggested in a government-sponsored report in 2009.
As it happens, Walker went soft on his own idea the following year, arguing that it would be mistake for the UK to go it alone because our banks would be put at a competitive disadvantage. But, freshly installed at Barclays, he has rediscovered his backbone. Lead by example is the new motto – and very welcome it is too.
The logic behind greater disclosure on pay is sound. If shareholders have more information on pay, they should be better equipped to challenge boards. A stunning revelation in the post-crash fallout was that 200 individuals at Royal Bank of Scotland had been earning more than chief executive Fred Goodwin. Investors – and, it seemed, the Financial Services Authority – had had no idea. If they had known, maybe more outsiders would have stopped to ask whose interests the bank was serving and queried the risks being taken.
Barclays' voluntary conversion to greater disclosure will send a useful message that the new regime, under Walker and chief executive Antony Jenkins, is prepared to be judged by results on its pledge to "rebalance" pay so that investors get a great share of the spoils. And it will surely be impossible for RBS and Lloyds not to copy the disclosure model. If Barclays can do it, so can the part-nationalised banks. Well done, Walker (assuming there's no fudging of the numbers by playing games with deferral periods and the like).
But he's also taking a calculated gamble. It is well-known that the rewards at the top of banks can be extraordinary – for example, at Barclays in 2010 Rich Ricci and Jerry del Missier, at the time the co-heads of investment banking, collected about £40m each. What is less appreciated is how far down a big bank it is possible to earn a life-changing fortune in a single year. Prepare to be amazed – once again – by investment bankers' winnings.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Elliot Brown