global Articles

Corporate Titles: An outdated concept or a building block for excellence?

As we look across a set of industries—Financial Services, Technology, Fin Tech, and Consulting—we see dramatically different approaches to job architecture in general, and the use of corporate titles in particular.

To Rate or Not to Rate: A Thoughtful Guide

In recent months, with increasing frequency, we have read of firms eliminating performance ratings and "blowing up performance management". Few trends in Human Resources have had more momentum and, while this might not be a popular thing to say, have been misunderstood or done with less forethought. Support for dismantling traditional performance management approaches has been informed by employee feedback, research, and positive intentions. But what sometimes feels missing in firms' change processes are rigorously defined desired end states, and thorough reviews of the role that performance management and ratings (specifically) play at those firms. We believe there is a sweet spot between "transformative" and traditional performance management. It will look a little different for each firm, particularly in financial services, where highly differentiated compensation is at the very core of how firms operate—but the sweet spot can only be achieved through rigor and not a rush to join a crowd. In this paper we will look at what is changing, what are the intended outcomes, who are the stakeholders in this change, and what are the specific implications for rewards at financial services firms. 

The Technology Talent Demand Convergence

It wasn’t so long ago that information technology (IT) was a back office function at most firms and, while companies would look at Apple or other innovators with envy or admiration, information technology was seen primarily as a way to execute or operate more efficiently – particularly at financial services and consulting firms. While there were pockets of innovation and firms dabbled with client-facing technology solutions, the overall IT focus was on automating repetitive tasks, storing and analyzing data, and running communication systems. As a result, the market for technology talent at financial and professional services firms was a relatively soft one.

Who wants to be an Investment Banker?

It is no secret that investment banks are concerned about their ability to attract and retain the best talent. The fading allure of investment banking as a career, increased competition for talent, reputational damage, cost pressure, regulation, and attitudinal shifts associated with the changing of the generational guard have all contributed to what is now widely regarded as one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.

Exams, elephants, and advisor performance: Dealing with the disconnect between client satisfaction and advisor performance

When polled to give their wealth manager an exam score, US HNW investors levied a score of 72.7%, which would equate to a C- grade. This score would likely result in dire consequences in most households with children. Yet at the same time, net new money inflows – which averaged USD 1.8 billion (or 1.7% of assets) across the industry in 2013 – seem to affirm the health of global wealth managers.

Restoring the Culture / Reward Link

Firms are trying to do more with less regarding compensation but two powerful, conflicting forces are affecting how they manage reward. Diminished business performance is increasingly driving firms to customized solutions, with the focus less on conforming to market practice, and more on what is optimal for survival. Regulation is a powerful force in driving firms toward more standardization. Even firms that are operating outside the regulatory crosshairs are influenced by what they are seeing in the larger, more regulated marketplace around compensation. In the midst of trying to tailor plans to be unique and practical, as well as aligned with regulatory guidelines, the linkage between a firm's culture and reward is often falling by the wayside.

Client Experience: The drive to put clients at the heart of wealth management

“Put the customer at the heart of the service experience” – that’s the gauntlet that one global wealth management firm intends to throw at the feet of its new executive and head of client experience (CX).  Challenged to “drive transformational change in customer journeys” and deliver “sustainable competitive advantage through best-in-market customer experience”, the optimism of all would-be candidates must be applauded.

Refining Your Existing Staff Location Strategy

Difficult market conditions, increased regulatory obligations, and global competition are adding to the significant pressures on financial services firms to further reduce their operating costs. Over the past 10 years, many institutions have achieved substantial savings through outsourcing and/or offshoring some of their support functions. IT support, call centers, and transaction-intensive operational processes have been outsourced to large Business Process Outsourcing firms. Furthermore, most of the large banks have created their own captive centers in low-cost locations to maintain control and realize savings.

Re-thinking the link between client satisfaction and advisor pay

It is hard to believe, but in wealth management today one of the most controversial statements you can make is that client satisfaction is at the heart of the business. This seems counterintuitive, especially in a business that prides itself on building lifetime relationships with clients who have complex financial needs.

The Innovation Requirement

Since the crisis of 2008 we have seen significant change within financial services, however, much of the action taken by market players has been reactionary and defensive. Although a great deal has been said about the excesses and errors of the past, the current focus for banks, in particular, must be on the need to innovate or risk becoming stagnant and losing the ability to compete for exceptional talent. In this matter, banks should take a lesson from today's leaders in technology.

The Impact of CRD IV on Compensation

The Capital Requirements Directive, CRD IV, is poised to restrict incentive compensation for an important segment of banking employees. As a result, a number of firms are struggling to structure attractive reward packages so they can continue to compete effectively for talent with firms that will not be covered by this legislation. Should CRD IV be implemented as currently drafted, code staff bonuses will be capped at 1x fixed pay. There is still a chance that shareholders will vote for an exceptional cap of 2x fixed pay which would improve the ability to compete but would still leave European firms at a substantial disadvantage to non-EU peers for staff outside of Europe.

Alternatives to Pay that Reward Employees and Increase Engagement

As premiums for working in financial services shrink and demands on staff grow, morale and motivation are becoming a daily challenge for line managers and HR alike. Many banks are currently considering new approaches that effectively reward and engage without pay.

Incentive Pay for Support Staff: Should Banks Consider Moving to Salary Only

As firms look to reduce costs, the topic of how infrastructure or support staff should be paid is frequently raised. A number of firms have broached the topic of removing incentive pay for some or all of these employees and compensating them on a pure salary basis. Other firms, who have moved compensation from variable to fixed over the past 5 years are now unhappy with their rising fixed cost base – not just for revenue generators, but for support staff as well.

Undervalued Private Bankers

Private bank margins have been squeezed from all sides of late. Low federal fund rates and high deposit insurance costs have lowered spreads on banking products; defensively inclined clients, holding high levels of cash, are reluctant to become more aggressive which is driving down fees and commissions; and private banker compensation has been rising faster than the revenue they bring in.

Improving Wealth Management Margins Requires HR Led Change

Steady growth, high margins relative to other segments of financial services, and low capital requirements makes wealth management an attractive sector in a low growth, capital constrained post-Basel III world. However, the influx of investment has kept demand for Relationship Managers high and caused Relationship Manager pay to rise faster than productivity (see Exhibit 1 below). This has exacerbated the margin pressure caused by historically low spreads on banking revenue and weak equity markets. As a result, U.S. private bank margins have declined 25% since hitting a peak of 40% (pre-tax) in 2006. These lower margins have resisted dramatic improvement despite reduced loan loss provisioning in recent years.

Software Development Lessons from the Technology Sector: Banks Consider New Sources of Talent

Major financial institutions are increasingly viewing the technology sector as a source of talent for key roles such as low latency trading, cloud computing, security, mobile applications and other development/architecture roles.  At the same time, in light of flat or reducing total compensation levels, banks are concerned that they, in turn, will lose staff to the technology sector and are looking to find alternative ways of motivating and rewarding key talent.

Reforming Wall Street Pay

The noise around "Wall Street" pay is deafening. The industry, its employees and the regulators are under daily attack. The criticisms, while loud, are not particularly constructive. The purpose of this paper is to separate fact from fiction, to distinguish the naive from the realistic and to level set the kinds of reforms that are both necessary and practical.

Location Arbitrage: Gaining Competitive Advantage through an Effective Sourcing Strategy

Offshoring has long been viewed as a way to reduce costs and potentially deliver wider benefits such as increased productivity or new revenue opportunities that might be unprofitable if delivered onshore. Offshore locations such as China and India are well established but a number of new Asian and European centers are challenging the traditional offshore service locations. Placing of support services in highly educated, language capable, low cost locations has proved a widely publicized success story for many banks, but has it been as far-reaching as we have been led to believe?

Emerging Regions Update

A team of our consultants provide an update on emerging regions including Brazil, Russia, India, China, Middle East, and South Africa.

Infrastructure Pay Update: Rebalancing Value

In a previous article, we discussed how banks largely “back into” funding incentive pay for their Infrastructure or support groups. Many firms use hard financial metrics to measure performance and create incentive funding in their revenue generating areas, and only after these obligations have been satisfied, divide up the balance for the Infrastructure groups.

How Motivated Is Motivated Enough?

Prior to the financial crisis, most people outside of the sector likely never gave compensation and incentive plan design a second thought. As the crisis unfolded and the government set out to identify the contributing factors, however, evaluating compensation practices became an important exercise for regulators and banks. The government’s point of view was that banking organizations often rewarded employees for increasing revenue or short-term profit without adequate regard for the risk those activities posed to the organization and the financial system at large.

Shareholders at the Top 50 Say “Yes” on Pay

​If investors are dissatisfied with executive pay, voting results during this proxy season are certainly not reflecting that sentiment. An overwhelming majority of shareholders at the top banks gave their approval on executive pay. However, shareholders have shown a desire to have ongoing input into the pay decision-making process by strongly supporting annual say on pay proxy votes.

What Does the Fed Really Want? Horizontal Review Update

All financial institutions have been besieged by a plethora of new rules coming from domestic and, in many cases, foreign regulators. The volume of compliance work is only outweighed by the collective concern about what these regulations will do to profitability, compensation and shareholder return. At the same time, the Federal Reserve’s (the Fed) position is quite simple and reasonable—they want to prevent compensation from contributing to a future financial crisis.

A Case for Rigor in the Glow of the Pipeline

2010 was a bounce back year for many Investment Banking firms focused on M&A, particularly smaller "boutique" shops. After painful years in 2008 and 2009, with low deal volume, scrambles to assemble restructuring teams, and speculation about the merits of countercyclical products and services, firms are bullish on the M&A pipeline and focusing on expansion. If the anticipated deal volume comes to fruition, this will likely be a prosperous year for the vast majority of firms in this space. There will be a small set of firms that will make the most of this opportunity and some that will simply ride the wave up and then slide back down.

The Perils of Pre-Pays

Over the years, some companies have actively managed the timing of incentive compensation in anticipation of tax rates changing. While there has been a fair amount of speculation around this recently, to date, there has been more discussion than any real action on this front. 

Infrastructure Bonus Pool Funding:

During the last 12 months, pay structures for bank staff have changed dramatically. There have been significant increases in base salaries for some firms and changes to the delivery of incentive compensation. The decision making for these changes has been directed at perceived risk takers in the front offices of banks. However, these changes have also impacted the back offices, i.e., the infrastructure functions. As firms are now beginning the planning process for year-end compensation, should they also reassess the way that the bonus pool for infrastructure functions is calculated and distributed?

The Psychology of the Take-Away

As firms consider ways to deliver pay that are motivating, conform to regulatory guidelines, factor in multi-year performance, and discourage risk, there has been increasing thought and energy devoted to expanding clawbacks, holdbacks, performance hurdles, etc. In some cases these provisions are largely window dressing. Most clawback provisions are linked to employee malfeasance or conduct that is deliberately detrimental. When you consider the recent credit crisis, very little of the conduct would have actually triggered any of these provisions. 

Refining the Employee Value Proposition

Over the last 18 months, a number of forces—regulatory reform, firm economics, share availability and public perception—have forced large-scale shifts in the form, level and mix of compensation in financial institutions. Many of these changes were made in haste and out of necessity. As competition for talent heats up, firms are under pressure to define, benchmark and optimize what they use to attract, engage and retain employees―their Employee Value Proposition.

2010 Compensation Plans: A Year in Flux

Mandatory deferral plans were never particularly interesting. Firms were preoccupied with being “competitive with the street”. There wasn’t a great deal of variety and innovation. Employees griped about having some portion of their bonuses deferred, and then often sat back and watched the value of their awards escalate. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case in the last couple of years.

2009: A Year to Forget? Are There Lessons to Be Learned?

By all accounts, 2009 was a year that most of us want to forget. The credit crisis came home to roost, government intervention and regulation reached an all-time high, executives in general and bankers in particular were vilified, and so many things that we took for granted were turned upside down. But, from all this, are there lessons that we can learn?

 

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