ZURICH Strong first-quarter results are likely to ensure UBS UBSN.VX wins shareholder backing for its pay plans at a meeting on Thursday, though a $26 million signing-on award for investment bank chief Andrea Orcel is bound to attract criticism.
Former Bundesbank president Axel Weber, who has been chairman of the Swiss bank for the past year, will have the job of handling any opposition. And some of it could be personal, after he pocketed 4 million Swiss francs ($4.3 million) for joining, on top of his basic pay and an award of UBS shares.
Fed up with corporate excess, Swiss voters pushed through some of the strictest controls on executive pay this year, including the introduction of binding shareholder votes on compensation from next year.
"Chairman Weber talks of a new corporate culture and that managers should set an example, but he himself is taking eight million Swiss francs," retail investor Brigitta Moser-Harder, who has campaigned against UBS bonuses, told Reuters.
Banker pay and bonuses have become hot topics across Europe since the financial crisis, when a string of major banks including UBS had to be bailed out by taxpayers.
Earlier this month, shareholders at Julius Baer BAER.VX rejected the Swiss private bank's pay plan, while a sizable minority of investors were critical of a move by Credit Suisse CSGN.VX to issue new shares to pay staff bonuses.
A $2.3 billion loss due to a rogue-trading scandal and a record $1.5 billion fine for its part in a global interest rate rigging scandal have singled UBS out for opprobrium.
Last year, over a third of shareholders rejected the bank's pay plans and only the thinnest of majorities approved the performance of the board and management.
This time round, opposition is likely to be more muted after first-quarter results signaled UBS's plans to scale back its investment bank and focus on private banking are paying off.
Shareholder advisory group ISS has also recommended backing UBS's pay plan.
However, individual investors are certain to berate the board for what they see as an alarming asymmetry between UBS's 2.51 billion-franc loss for 2012 and its 2.5 billion bonus pool.
ISS has also warned UBS needs to introduce bonus caps for top executives next year, and that if it does not, it will strongly consider a recommendation to vote against its pay plan.
Unlike other European lenders with investment banking divisions such as HSBC (HSBA.L) and Barclays (BARC.L), UBS does not have a fixed ratio between bonuses and base salary for executive directors and is instead waiting for Europe to finalize rules on banker bonuses before making any changes.
From January 2014, banker bonuses in Europe will be limited to a maximum two-and-a-half times base salary.
UBS has halved the immediate cash bonuses to executive board members to $1 million and lengthened the deferral period for bonuses in UBS shares. It can also claw back bonuses.
($1 = 0.9290 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Christopher Vellacott; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Mark Potter)