Bankers warn of brain drain as rules loom

BANKERS have renewed warnings of a talent exodus from the UK as the financial watchdog begins consulting the City on a tough set of bonus and pay rules drafted in Europe.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) is engaging with institutions and shareholders over plans to cap the upfront cash portion of large rewards at 20 per cent and stagger the remainder over five years. Although the EU standards will not come into effect until January, most UK lenders have already tightened their remuneration policies in line with demands set out by the G20.

After the bumper second quarter earnings season prompted a fresh flurry of criticism of pay levels, British Bankers’ Association chief executive Angela Knight warned that skilled workers would flee for America and Asia.

“When you consider the extraordinary commentary we saw a fortnight ago in which the return to profitability [of banks] seemed to be a bad thing, you realise policymakers are not recognising reality,” she said. “Around the world, the US shows no inclination to follow what we’re doing and the Far East is just getting on with the job. Either we pay the going rate or we lose the business.”

Barclays and Standard Chartered have also hinted at plans to move their domiciles given chancellor George Osborne’s levy on bank balance sheets, to be introduced at the same time as the EU’s pay strictures.

Barclays chairman Marcus Agius said at the time of the bank’s interim numbers: “We have planned carefully… I’m sure all banks are considering what their options are.”

Standard Chartered chief executive Peter Sands said: “There is no doubt the arguments for London have weakened relative to other centres… We’ve been looking at it more because we’re asked about it more by our investors.”

Sands particularly criticised Osborne’s levy as “complicated to implement”. He suggested increased corporation tax would be a simpler and more effective tool.

HSBC, run by Michael Geoghegan, yesterday confirmed it would hold its three-yearly review of its domicile in 2011 as scheduled. But a source said there were no plans to leave the UK.