Hester had no choice but to turn down bonus

 
Stephan Shakespeare
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PEOPLE are chemically programmed to feel more comfortable when they are in agreement with those around them. This affects people in power just as much as everyone else – indeed it may affect them even more, as their decisions have wider effects. Public opinion is becoming more influential, as the digital age gives the public a louder voice, and leaders can no longer convince themselves their own opinions are popular unless they actually are.

Political, commercial and neuro-chemical prerogatives all mean that there is a necessary regression to the majority view. The row over Stephen Hester’s bonus demonstrates how this process works.

The final decision to reject the bonus may have come after political pressure but there is no doubt that all the players in the drama were operating against a backdrop of massive public discontent they could not ignore.

A YouGov poll that weekend showed that 73 per cent of the British population thought the government should block the bonus and 88 per cent thought bonuses of that size are not justified for publically owned banks.

For Hester that creates two problems. Firstly, the difficulty he has as an individual in ignoring those views, and secondly the impact that it has on the RBS brand.

Looking at BrandIndex, RBS buzz fell from an already very low -26 to -45 in a week while the Index score (a composite of six key perception measures) dropped from -16 to -23. The need to stay in tune with public opinion gave Hester no choice but to turn down his bonus, and it would have been better from a brand perception point of view if the issue had never arisen. Stephan Shakespeare is the chief executive of YouGov