April 19, 2013 / 4:16 PM / in 5 years

Activist investors urge pay revolt at UBS, Credit Suisse

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss activist investor group called on Friday for shareholders to reject what it called excessive executive pay at banks UBS and Credit Suisse, echoing public anger over corporate largesse in Switzerland.

People stand on a terrace of an office building of Swiss bank UBS at the Paradeplatz square in Zurich April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

But it is unlikely to marshall enough support to vote down UBS and Credit Suisse’s compensation plans after influential U.S.-based shareholder advisory firm ISS came out in support of both banks on pay.

“Despite the progress made by the two banks with regard to the executive remuneration structure, the amounts paid are still too high,” said the group, Ethos, whose views are widely followed by Swiss pension funds.

Anger at big bonuses drove Swiss citizens to vote for some of the world’s strictest controls on executive pay last month, forcing public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on compensation in future.

That law has not yet been applied and neither pay vote - at Credit Suisse’s shareholder meeting April 26 and UBS’s on May 2 - is binding. A spokeswoman for UBS said the bank would not comment on Ethos’s recommendation.

A Credit Suisse spokesman declined to respond specifically to Ethos, but said: “There are various proxy advisors and we have a constructive dialogue with all of them... What counts is the result at the general meeting next week.”

A third of UBS shareholders rejected the bank’s pay scheme last year due to anger over a 4 million franc signing-on fee for Chairman Axel Weber, while more than a quarter of Credit Suisse investors voted against its compensation plan last year.

Credit Suisse raised Chief Executive Brady Dougan’s pay by a third in 2012 to 7.8 million Swiss francs ($8.39 million), while that of the Swiss bank’s highest earner, Robert Shafir, rose to 10.6 million francs from 8.5 million in 2011.

Shafir, who was promoted to co-head of its newly merged private bank and asset management unit in November, is also head of the Americas for Credit Suisse.

Meanwhile, UBS paid CEO Sergio Ermotti 8.87 million francs in 2012 and welcomed a new investment bank chief with a package worth almost 25 million francs.

The Swiss bank in the process of firing 10,000 staff in a partial withdrawal from investment banking.

Actares, another group influential with Swiss shareholders, has already recommended voting down UBS’s pay scheme.

Shareholders have followed calls by the influential ISS in recent weeks, in rejecting pay plans at Julius Baer and Actelion.

Credit Suisse does face ISS-driven opposition to a plan to issue new shares to pay staff bonuses, which the bank needs shareholder approval for.

Ethos mirrored ISS’s objections to Credit Suisse’s share for bonuses plan, saying it too recommends voting it down.

Geneva-based Ethos is also recommending that UBS shareholders reject a proposal to exempt its management and board from any shareholder lawsuits against them over their conduct.

The bank faces a $1.5 billion fine for taking part in a multi-year scheme to manipulate Libor and other benchmark interest rates.

($1 = 0.9298 Swiss francs)

Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer

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