Suffice to say, Standard Chartered does not come out of this well, not least as Mr. Winters’ annual pension allowance was an astonishing 40% of his cash salary, an eye-watering figure that conjures images of past City excesses.
The general consensus is that the dispute has not been well handled by Standard Chartered, particularly within the context of its CEO’s comments, which branded those shareholders who voted against the company’s pay policy as “immature”. Unsurprisingly, his views have drawn the ire of stakeholders.
Interestingly though, while said investors have been highly critical of Standard Chartered’s policies and in particular Mr Winters’ response, few have been willing to do so publicly. A quick assessment of coverage in the Financial Times, which has followed the story extensively over the last week, finds that only one investor was willing to go on the record (twice) to offer criticism, with a further four providing unattributed views over the course of eight articles.
While it is difficult to generalise – fund managers’ policies will differ and, due to investment styles or for various other reasons, it may prove difficult to comment – it feels as though the asset management industry may be missing a trick here, particularly at a time when it is itself under significant scrutiny. Issues relating to executive pay and remuneration will always be ones that the general public will take an interest in and likely have strong opinions on. On that basis, even a modest response, either at an industry or individual business level, would likely land the fund management sector on the right side of public opinion.
Going further, the investment industry already has a platform on which to act and more actively express its opinions. The Investment Association (IA) has given clear guidance on the issue of remuneration and pension contributions, arguing that executives should receive a pension in line with contributions received by the majority of employees, which tends to be capped at 10%. The disparity in the case of Standard Chartered, where Mr. Winters’ pension is reportedly 40% of his salary, would suggest there might be more scope for investors to express their displeasure.
More startling still is that the fact that HSBC is currently the only large, publicly traded bank that wholly follows the IA’s guidance with respect to pensions allowances. Executive remuneration is therefore not an issue going away anytime soon.
This is certainly not to say that fund managers need to be more “activist” in their approach or that a response is needed to every scenario of this type. But by actively communicating their views, activity and voting on such issues – be this publicly or at a minimum to clients – asset managers can position themselves positively, demonstrate their ability and focus in acting in the best interests of their own investors and, more broadly, cement their place as a force for good in society.
At a time when the industry is under pressure, greater or at least more visible efforts in this direction, would be advisable.