Epidemic of thieving bankers

Photo-by-Ian-Davidson

Introduction
Why have so many well paid, highly educated men (and it is almost entirely men) working in financial services caught the disease of fraud and theft? There is manipulation of LIBOR and FX rates, alleged dubious dealings in derivatives, insider trading; even down to evasion of train fares. Is the infection caused by greed, hubris, poor leadership or a corrupting culture? What is to be done?
Environment
Financial services is one of the most heavily regulated, monitored and controlled environments. Yet, even allowing for the gross incompetence of the regulators, the level of wrongdoing is breath-taking. It is essential, for the survival of the already low levels of trust in financial services, that the infection of thievery and self-enrichment is tacked with the vigor of attacking an epidemic.
Are societal norms to blame? Over the last few years we have seen enormous growth in tax evasion, expense fiddling and influence peddling (and that is only the politicians). It is arguable that the environment among the well off and those who should be setting an example in society is that obedience to the rules, both the spirit and the letter is for the little people. Even when caught the response is often that nothing wrong has been done; it is the rules that are at fault or that the regulations are to be gamed to the highest extent to the advantage of the individual. In that context I guess that a little rate manipulation is seen as quite acceptable. Informal sub cultures have developed, despite all the regulatory training and people development: where criminal or near criminal behavior is not just acceptable but encouraged. The disease spreads tenaciously, secretively, hidden from the cleansing light of day until it is too late. Certainly Human Resources appear to have lacked any form of X-Ray vision to detect the wrongdoing not just at an early stage but at any stage at all.
The Epidemiological approach
It is time that an epidemiological approach to the problem is taken. Examination of the causes, spread, transmission and monitoring of the disease in the hope of finding a cure or eliminating the causes of this epidemic is necessary and timely. We have big data tools, masses of data, specific examples and outbreak centers’ – perhaps even a patient zero or two. Trying to kill the diseases by punishing the host (in this case by large fines on the banks paid for, ultimately by the shareholders) is akin to killing the dog in order to get rid of the fleas.
Consequences
If we do not take the epidemiological approach now we risk simply driving the behavior underground making it harder to find and with even more painful consequences for the bank customers and the little people who always seem to carry the cost burden be it via higher taxes, austerity or erosion of personal wealth. This is the winter of our discontent, it is time to let lose the weapons of disease control before it turns in to a cancer that destroys the entire body of financial services.

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Complex can of worms – The Investment Association urge fund managers to divulge pay practices

Photograph-by-Ian-DavidsonIntroduction
The Investment Management Association has urged its members to disclose their pay policies and how this encourages alignment between investment teams and clients. At one level this is a worthy aspiration, particularly given the recent attacks on the industry by the Institute of Directors. On the other it is a smoke and mirror exercise to hide poor practice and misaligned reward. Anyone with any knowledge of the workings of financial services reward knows that broad principals often hide dirty details at the operational level.

Complexity, culture and competition
The publishing of generic pay policies cannot reflect the necessarily complexity of remuneration structures and practice in the investment management industry. Investment and asset management is, like the majority of financial markets, heavily segmented, heavily differentiated and deeply complex, There are considerable differences between the activities of an Equity Index fund, an active bond fund, a property fund and an active emerging markets equity fund. Their risk and reward profiles are totally different as is often the time frame in which they operate, There are multiple flavours of “funds of funds” as well as cross holdings of house and non-house funds with the occasional derivative overlay. Each and every segment will have a different reward strategy, outputs and labour markets. The industry has long ago moved away from “long only” strategies to complex and hybrid mixtures of long, short, derivative and real asset funds; all with very different revenue and risk profiles,

The characteristics of retail and institutional funds can be different as are their objectives. The maturity and fund flows also add layers of complexity to structuring remuneration. Some investment funds are nearer hedge funds than the traditional investment approaches with hedge fund like carry arrangements and performance fees. No one set of remuneration principals can cover the vast array of arrangements – often set on a fund by fund basis and changed every year,

Culture
As we have learned from the history of the many investigations in to financial services malpractice; culture can play a larger role in determining behaviours, reward and performance than any set of policies. A typical example is the on-going issues with LIBOR fixing. The “nod and wink” or the tacit acceptance by senior management that certain behaviours will not be noticed if a profit is turned is as frequent in investment management as it is anywhere in financial services. The same pressures on sales and fund performance exist in this industry as it does in, say investment and corporate banking. The amounts at stake are of eye watering size. In 2013 assets under management just in the UK were £6.2 trillion and that is before the recent uptick in world stock markets. The FT estimates that an average compensation cost per employee at global asset managers is US$263,000 and is set to overtake investment banking pay by 2016.
Regulation in the sector is growing and increasingly odious. However, as history of the recent past shows, the regulators are invariably behind the curve and just do not have the intellect or resources to catch up with changing remuneration and risk profiles in fast moving, innovative financial services industries.

Competition
The competition for star players in the investment and asset management industries are just as intense as in investment banking. Individuals and teams move houses with remarkable rapidity; given the alleged longer term horizons. The facts are that performance is measure over months, quarters and annually the same as it always has been. Despite regulation, lucrative transfer terms are still a very active activity in this market place. Again, there are few star performances and everyone knows who there are. The fight to retain and recruit talent from a limited pool is one of the major drivers of remuneration in this sector. A 2013 survey by Heidrick & Struggles in late 2013 noted that:
• 41% of respondents are actively recruiting
• 57% of distribution professionals are open to considering new opportunities
• 50% of survey respondents had changed jobs in the last three years
Dated as this survey is, the trend can only be upwards given the ever increasing amount of assets under management in the global marketplace as investors scramble for return in the long-term low interest rate return environment.

The amount paid to these star players cannot be overestimated, although small in number their remuneration can add up to a considerable percentage of the employee costs of an organisation. Thus the use of averages is, like most remuneration measurement in financial services, deeply misleading. The differentiation, the complex nature of packages, the uncertain future value of compensation awarded today means that even establishing a base line is fraught with methodological difficulty.

Remuneration policies
If you wanted to be mischievous; it would be fun to play buzzword bingo with investment and asset management remuneration policies. They all want to attract, retain and reward. They all want to create shareholder value within the risk appetite of the organisation. The vast majority will pay lip service to employee behaviors and risk management as counter-balances to pure performance measurement. Frankly, I could write a remuneration policy for any of these organisations in a relatively short period of time.
These policies hide a complex reality of highly diverse practices with a dazzling array of performance metrics (often differing between individual peers in the same team) that would take an actuary to calculate the outcomes; and that is before the inevitable horse trading around what the metrics actually mean and how they should be applied.

The remuneration policy will no doubt talk of alignment of interest with clients; but what does that really mean in practice? As one large institutional investor said to me only last week; she did not really care how the return was made provided she they hit their target benchmark. Other investors will have strict ethical guidelines or even religious considerations as constraints on the activities of the managers. Thus what aligns with one client requirements will be an anathema to another. Yet it may well be the same investment manager running both funds – what then is “alignment”?

Concluding can of worms
The request made to investment managers to be more open on their remuneration is a good try but no cigar. Being pragmatic, it may be seen as a sophisticated effort to ward off yet further regulation and statutory disclosure. The reality is that, like so much remuneration in financial services any potential “truth” is deeply hidden and can only be understood by seasoned professionals and remuneration analysts and even then on the basis of numerous, conflicting assumptions.
I know from experience that the world of asset and investment management remuneration is complex as a necessity. It reflects the fragmented, segmented complex world in which these organisations flourish and make a great deal of money.
Trying to reduce the environment to the level of disclosure of remuneration policy is perhaps something of a pointless, resource wasting and ultimately a counterproductive exercise.

Giving it away

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Question
You are sitting in your office when the CEO walks in. She says “I want to give half my salary away to increase the minimum pay in the organisation to $25,000.” Do you:
A) Burst out laughing?
B) Sit her down with a coffee and ask how long she has spent in the sun?
C) Start working out the new pay and the impact on the benefit costs?

Introduction
We have seen a couple of recent cases of exactly this happening. CEO’s taking a salary cut or turning down pay increases to fund either general increases or to raise the minimum pay in their organisation. What are the reasons behind this startling phenomenon? Guilt, publicity or an increasing discomfort with levels of pay inequality? Is the startling level of inequality beginning to cause discomfort to the high paid?

The facts
In the United States the top 1% of earners are paid 20% of total earnings. ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United_States). The reverse of this coin is that 25% of jobs in the United States are low paid.

The issues
Pay inequality is largely perceived in relative terms: what we are paid compared to the colleague sat next to us. I remember giving a talk to HR in an investment bank. I told them average earnings in the UK were $35,000 and 62% of the UK population earned less than this – the team did not believe me. On checking, the average earnings in the room was $70 000 and the highest paid was $220,000.

Increasing inequality has, so far, had limited impact. We have seen the “Mac attack” on low pay in the catering sector, the occupy movement make occasional protests yet most carry on as normal. Sociologists argue that inequality leads to a breakdown of social cohesion and trust – but have we seen this?

The counter argument is simple. The labour market works and we are paid what we are worth. But, we know the market is tilted. If favours certain backgrounds, certain coloured skin and one sex over another. White male middle class high earners have largely done well in the last decade over, for example, black working class women. So, pay inequality is also an issue of social fairness.

What is to be done?
We have a number of options
A) Do nothing – the labour market more or less works and the alternatives are worse
B) Encourage an open and honest debate – but will it achieve anything?
C) Legislate – but state initiatives on pay seldom work and always lead to unfortunate consequences
D) As pay professionals start to ask questions about inequality of our CEO’s – but will they listen?

What do you think?

The Cobblers last, digital marketing and reward.

Introduction

  I was in a branch of Timpson recently where I noticed a cobblers last.  This is a rare sight.  I am old enough to remember when most shoe shops had them in the shop window; a bit like the three balls above a pawn brokers shop.  In reward we have a number of tools that go in and out of fashion like the cobblers last.

Recently I undertook a post graduate certificate in digital marketing with Google Squared in order to make sure that I was using the most up to date tools of the trade, particularly for reward communications.  I learnt a great deal about curation, the customer journey, the importance of content and the enormous power of digital communication in this world that has moved far beyond the technology of the cobblers last.    It also helped refresh my thinking of the roles of imagery, imagination, innovation and illustration in communication.

 

Reward’s digital cobblers last

There are a large number of tools available to reward professionals to help get the message across – particularly in a world very largely dominated by digital communication.  I have used You Tube videos to demonstrate total reward concepts, Podcasts to discuss the latest pay regulations (and the CIPD produced some very informative broadcasts).  And Twitter to publicise interesting reward web content.    Blogs, both written and video, are a very good way to publicise changes and new initiatives in reward.  The raw power of modern personal computers linked with cheap yet sophisticated software packages for producing excellent videos and technically proficient podcasts puts the creative process in the hands of most of us. 

 

A few months ago I contributed a chapter on risk and reward to a new HR eBook, edited by David D’Souza, an OD professional, called “Humane Resourced”.  This excellent collection of HR blogs stormed to the top of the HR best seller list at Amazon and was even a top ten selling business book on the same platform.  Such is the power of the new media that makes publishers, film makers and broadcasters of us all. 

 

Networking has been around since the days that humans learnt to communicate further than they could shout.  There are some excellent digital tools for networking such as Google Plus and LinkedIn.  These tools will not just allow you to communicate, but find like-minded people and relevant professional groups for you to meet and join.   There are communities of interests available on any subject; and if you cannot find one to fit your interests, set one up….  I have an interest (but little talent) in photography, largely in the niche field of police and military vehicles; yet my Flickr photography mini site has had over 130,000 views; such is the power of the digital.

 

Proper and appropriate use of social media and digital technology means that you can generate a consistent message, a new meme, or brand image to a diverse and large audience at little cost except the not inconsiderable time resource and mental commitment to the cause.

 

Corporate realities – the Empire strikes back

We all live in a corporate reality where blogs, videos, podcasts and the like are controlled by the marketing and PR departments who have a strong fear of brand contamination or social media embarrassment.    I have two responses to this; having a firm grasp of digital media tools will enable reward practitioners to go to the corporate gate keepers with ideas and imagination to kick start some new reward communications.  Second, and perhaps more open to debate, large organisations are, with a few noticeable exceptions, slow moving and not nimble in a fast moving social media world.  Perhaps, just perhaps, reward could help move the paradigm.

 

Alternatively you make think the entire subject is just a load of old cobblers lasts.  

Pay round visualisations – Strong analytics III

Image

Introduction

An important part of any pay review is reviewing pay.  That is looking at pay modelling, outputs and outcomes.  My experience says that the 80/20 rule applies.  80% of the pay round outcomes will be straightforward.  What will be of interest is the 20% of the population that comprises of exceptions and outliers.  So a good analysis will be layered to provide details on the total spend by department or area and the identification of outliers and exceptions.

The most effective way to provide this data is to do so using graphical data and info graphics.  Human beings assimilated graphical data far faster, in most cases, than vast spread sheets of data or even summary data in tabular form.  We like to look for patterns and at pictures when going through the sense making process.

The other very important piece of the presentational jigsaw is to show, wherever possible, the link to business metrics and key process indicators. (KPI’s).  It is very useful to show correlations between our reward outcomes and business metrics.  We must use the data to show our “bang for the buck”.  That we are spending shareholder money to best advantage.  This approach should be supported by reference back of the pay outcomes to our reward strategy.  So if our strategy is to pay our top performers at the upper quartile of our pay market we must show that correlation in our presentations.

Getting pay visualisation right saves time, effort and increases the credibility of the reward team.  It aligns the reward analysis with that of the organisation and its management.  Having a cohesive pay narrative, linked to business outcomes with make the “sell” of the pay round easier and faster.  Anticipating the questions of our stakeholders is both simple and powerful.

Exceptions and outliers

If the pay round is well structured management will have a focus on the exceptions and the outliers.  Identify the top and bottom ten per cent of your pay proposals.  Clearly identify those staff who are being rewarded outside the policy or in a different way to their peer group.  DO NOT provide pages of spread sheets or tabular summary data. (Unless specifically asked for by a stakeholder).  For most managers pages of data are difficult and time consuming to read and difficult to interpret.

This graph shows a correlation between revenue ranking and market position.  It is immediately oblivious that there is an outlier.  The reason for that person’s position on the graph can be explained and a recommendation made as to how to correct the anomaly and increase the correlation between revenue ranking and market position.  (The underlying assumption is that this is part of the pay strategy).
Revenue
 

Develop the pay narrative

As reward professionals, working closely with our HR business partner colleagues, we should have developed a coherent pay narrative.  A story of what our pay round is trying to achieve and what it has actually achieved.  The reason for this is that it makes explanation, presentations and data analysis much easier if we have started off with a basic, clearly expressed set of principles and assumptions.  This may include foreign exchange rate decisions, key metrics including the budgets and a clean set of data as a starting point.  Time spent cleaning pay data is never wasted and can save a vast amount of time and trouble later in the process.  Data is never perfect.  I have frequently come across situations where the headcount I was using for the pay review and the information in the Finance department was different.  Agree and reconcile the approaches and numbers before the pay round starts.

There is never enough time or resources to process a pay round perfectly.  By undertaking the data cleansing, agreeing the pay narrative and assumptions and any reconciliations in advance (and appreciating that is not always possible) will save time and lead to a better pay review process.

A picture is worth a thousand words, or ten spread sheets

Producing high quality, clear info graphics and visualisations of reward data is a very efficient use of resources.  Returning to the 80/20 rule it allows management to focus on the 20% of the pay review that is important or of interest to our stakeholders. Graphics such as the one below can be used to answer questions before they are even asked.  Using this approach highlights our exceptions and the extremes of our pay distribution.

The supporting data is of course available behind the graphics.  But, returning to the theme of a good pay narrative, we can illustrate and support both what we are hoping to achieve and what we have actually achieved.  A good graphic is a “smack in the face with the obvious”. A crude but accurate comment on what a good graphic should achieve.

Business metrics and KPI’s

It is no longer enough just to present raw pay data.  We have to put the information in to the business context.  We must illustrate the connections and correlations between our limited pay and bonus budget and business outcomes.  Reward the performers and the revenue generators.  Pay outcomes can be used to give a clear message as to what behaviours and activities will be reward and those which will not.   Many organisations, even those in financial services, are looking carefully at the “how” something is achieved as well as the “what”.  Balanced scorecard approaches are very common; it is still possible to focus on the financial outcomes by giving it a high scorecard weighting; but we can nuance the approach by giving smaller weightings to cultural, behaviour and approach.  A well-constructed balanced score card will be measurable and give another basis for our graphics to show appropriate correlations.
Blog pic 3

In an earlier post (https://iandavidson.me/2013/08/23/pay-round-processes-a-big-data-approach-including-the-add-on-benefits-to-recruitment-training-and-development-and-succession-planning/) I showed how it is possible to run a pay round based almost entirely on those factors that lead to business success.  It is not easy and arguably it removes “discretion” from managers.  But, it is the use of that very discretion that often leads to upset and even legal challenge.  A robust process backed by robust data is the way forward.

blog pic 7

Conclusion

The pay round in the vast majority of organisations is resource and time constrained.  It can be made easier on all stakeholders by presenting a solid reward narrative illustrated and supported by appropriate and timely visualisations.  This allows the focus of the reviewing stakeholders, be they the Remuneration Committee, Executive management or line management, to be on the 20% of the population that requires attention rather than the 80% that does not.

A strong story, answering questions before they are asked and linkage with business metrics will be both appreciated as part of the alignment of HR and business strategy and as an efficient way to manage a pay round.  Providing good graphics saves time and increases focus when resources are, like high pay increases, very rare.

Employee benefits – cultural mood-music

Image

 

Employee benefits are often overlooked when thinking about organisational culture. Yet they are a powerful framing or reframing mechanism for amplifying the message in our organisation of “the way we do things around here”. Like a good base guitarist they can provide the rhythm underscoring the melody of our set piece riff.

Messages – explicit and implicit
There are a number of signpost continuums that are reflected in our benefit offerings;

  • Traditional to playful (think pensions vs bike to work)
  • Collective to individualistic (Set menu vs flex)
  • Paternalistic to intelligent consumer
  • Slow moving to early adaptor (Notice board vs Twitter)
  • Tea dance to Lo-fi (Think tea trolley to “Sushi made at your desk” (Hey, is that a new benefits concept?))

You get the idea. The what and the how of benefits delivery as well as the communication sets the mood music for how our organisation is perceived by employees and the wider world.

Conclusion
Benefits are not something that should just happen. They are an important rhythm to the music of our organisational culture. Not up there with the lead guitar perhaps; but an essential, if overlooked nuance and shading of the message of who we are and who we want to be.

Zero hours contracts: Extreme segmentation: the labour market dynamic

The news that the number of zero hours employees have been greatly undercounted illustrates a fundamental change in labour market dynamics. We are seeing an acceleration in the divide between the haves and the have nots. Those in the core on good pay, benefits and job security and those outside the core on poor pay, limited benefits and insecurity.

This enhanced segmentation highlights issues of social cohesion and human capital development. Could it represent the marginalisation of the young, the old and the unskilled into labour market ghettos, conceptual slums bottom feeding from leftovers of the core. A world where our children, our older relatives and the disadvantaged live on the crumbs from the rich person’s table. Not quite the brave new world we hoped for.