In 2006 the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University in Australia launched a study into the correlation between directors’ remuneration and performance in the Australian banking sector. Spearheaded by the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, they sought to add to a relatively deficient body of literature on the subject. The central premise of their study was to ask the following question – what, if any, is the relationship between director and CEO pay and banking performance?
To understand the implications of this question, we have to dig a little deeper into what it is we actually mean by performance. In the study the authors looked at three very commonly referenced metrics used when defining banking performance; return on assets (ROA), return on shareholder equity (ROE) and earnings per share (EPS).
What they uncovered was what many of you have probably guessed – pay and performance, when measured in this way, are unquestionably linked. When bank shares perform well and profits are up, CEO and director pay increases. However there is a subtle difference between the two – the time horizon on which the correlation appears. For CEOs, pay and performance move relatively in tandem, while for directors, any changes in pay are more dependent on historical performance.
For bank shareholders, this news is no doubt comforting. But what about for bank customers? When does the performance of their businesses, either negative or positive, ever correlate to the earnings of bank executives? And do increased profits and earnings per share ever come about as the result of either higher fees or a refusal to pass on rate cuts?
Some would say need we even ask the question. While banks may argue both customers and shareholders hold equal place as stakeholders, many bank customers disagree.
Maximizing shareholder value is a controversial topic outside of the banking industry. Plenty of well known CEOs from the tech industry have publicly denounced the idea of increasing shareholder returns at the expense of customers. They include the likes of Marc Benihoff (Salesforce), Jack Ma (Alibaba) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook).
Do we hear the same refrain from bank executives? Less often perhaps than we would like. So could this be a point of difference fintech’s could compete on? Almost certainly.
Unlike many other industries, banking and financial services are fundamental to the health of the economy at large. If a ‘for profit’ fintech company instead chose to align its executive remuneration structure more strongly against customer success and customer growth, would it find a willing customer base ready to switch?
The tipping point is almost certainly here and the small business market in particular is ripe for such an initiative.
For proof of this, we need look no further than Australia, where banks continued profit growth year after year, in what is a relatively small market by global standards, have many wondering exactly where those profits are coming from, not to mention where they are going. This year the sector topped $35 billion in pre-tax profits.
According to The Australian Institute, these profits, as a share of GDP are the highest in the entire world, at 2.9 percent. For every dollar earned in Australia, 2.9 cents ends up as bank pre-tax profit. Compare that to the US and the UK, where the figures come in under half that amount, and questions need to be asked.
The reality is banks continue to allocate capital to ‘safe’ sectors. In Australia and New Zealand this has resulted in one of the highest rates of housing indebtedness in the world. The problem, as many economists point out, is that this behavior is resulting in financing going towards the least productive section of the economy, leaving the job creators and the innovators out in the cold.
Fintech can be the saviour of small business. Governments should be directly sponsoring and encouraging this to happen if they want to create a prosperous economic future for their citizens. And when fintech performance is pegged against economic growth in a sustainable way, then economies across the world may just find the growth trigger they’ve been searching for.