Sunday, 11 April 2010

Bankers vs. the other FSB

The FSB is planning a crackdown on Russian bankers' bonuses, but the Kremlin may step in - on the bankers' side.

Come again? Well, the FSB in question is not Russia's Federal Security Service, but the Basel-based Financial Stability Board, a transnational regulator. In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the G20 nations have charged the board with curbing risky lending as criticism mounts over obscene payouts and lack of regulation.

While many G20 countries have imposed tough curbs, Russian banks say the country needs hefty bonuses to attract talent here.

Recruitment experts have also criticised the FSB's plan, saying it will wipe out Moscow's already under-filled paddling pool of talent and put banks under more pressure.

"If they do [limit bonuses] they would be creating big problems for themselves. It is hard enough to attract really good talent to Russia anyway," said Nick Rees, managing director of recruitment firm Star Search. "There needs to be a premium and this is usually in the form of bonuses."

The FSB, however, has recommended that the entire G20 take measures to curb exorbitant bonuses and is already seeing hard evidence of this in developed economies. Russia, along with other emerging markets, is lagging behind.

"The requirement that compensation be aligned with prudent risk-taking, though differences remain in approach, emphasis and degree of detail, [is not currently addressed in Russia]," the FSB wrote in a report, adding that legislation on the issue is under consideration.

Bankers say that any attempts to limit their bonuses will see top talent disappearing for sunny shores in search of governments who'll let their lenders dole out heavy sums of cash, with Hong Kong and Singapore mentioned as possible destinations.

"Most people I know came here purely for the money, because there are problems with the lifestyle such as ecology, transport and infrastructure," said Ivan Ivanchenko, a banker at VTB.
Although Ivanchenko said that Russian bankers might stay thanks to their connection to their homeland, a mass exodus of foreigners would mean there was simply not enough homegrown talent to go around.

While legislation on the financial sector is under discussion in the State Duma, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin is thought to be unlikely to charge in heavy-handed against the bankers, as the government is seeking to turn Moscow into a top financial centre.

"The Russian approach will differ from that of [Barack] Obama and [Nicolas] Sarkozy, who is the leader of this process," said Sergei Markov, a senior Duma deputy for United Russia. "The government will give more freedom to the banks for things like bonuses."

Kudrin's approach would be welcomed by bankers as they aim to rejuvenate lending and increase output, but it could incur the wrath of the general public, which widely believes that "greedy" bankers and CEOs were to blame for the crisis.

"Financiers, right now, are probably the most hated kind of class, not only in Russia but worldwide," said Ivanchenko. "Bankers even top politicians in that."

Instead of focusing on bankers' bonuses, experts believe that the lending problems are more fundamental than those which caused the crisis and deeper reforms are needed.

"The role of banks is generally regarded as negative [by the public]," said Markov. "Banks don't play a role in economic development and don't do their job of giving credit to enterprises."

Markov added that caps on bonuses and new legislation would have little effect and that a change in banks' internal policies is needed to improve the financial sector.

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