NEW YORK (Reuters) - You wouldn’t know it by his pay stubs, but Jiang Jianqing heads the world’s largest bank.
Jiang, chairman of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, made just $234,700 in 2008. That’s less than 2 percent of the $19.6 million awarded to Jamie Dimon, chief executive of the world’s fourth-largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The contrast illustrates the massive differences in pay among the CEOs of the world’s top banks. The compensation of the CEOs of the largest U.S. banks towers above what’s paid to banking chiefs in other parts of the world, according to a Reuters analysis of pay at the 18 biggest banks by market value.
Excessive compensation at banks is expected to be discussed this week when the Group of 20 nations meets in Pittsburgh. But consensus on the issue remains a distant hope as there continue to be vast differences in how bankers are paid, from the CEO on down.
The United States is home to four of the nine largest banks in the world — JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and Citigroup Inc. It is also home to four of the six most handsomely rewarded bank CEOs.
“The U.S. executive pay levels have always dwarfed pay for companies elsewhere in the world,” said Sarah Anderson, a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies, which is critical of Wall Street, and co-author of the recent study “America’s Bailout Barons.”
“They have claimed it is impossible to recruit people without paying such compensation. Yet, if you look at the pay levels in Europe and in a lot of Asian countries, somehow they manage to find people who can run major global firms while making a fraction of what they make in the U.S.,” she said.
For a graphic comparing bank chiefs' pay around the world, click here
China, for example, boasts three of the world’s four biggest banks, yet the leaders of those banks — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank Corp and Bank of China — are among the lowest paid of those surveyed by Reuters. The chairman and the president of each of the banks are paid roughly $230,000 per year.
“That’s basically nothing for the leaders of these huge Chinese financial institutions,” said Laura Thatcher, who leads law firm Alston & Bird’s executive compensation practice in Atlanta. “I can’t imagine why they would work for nothing.”
So how, exactly, do the Chinese do it?
The Chinese banks, which are state-controlled, are typically led by bureaucrats appointed by the central government, and executive pay is capped.
Being the head of a Chinese bank does come with perks, just like running a U.S. bank. The top Chinese bank executive gets such non-cash benefits as a car, driver, medical insurance, food and housing. Experts note that many American and European executives receive similar benefits.
Some of the Chinese bank executives may be willing to accept the pay level of a top government official in the hope of moving into a powerful political position in the future.
But the executives also feel the consequences of a global downturn, just like some of the U.S. CEOs who were forced to skip bonuses or accept reduced salaries in the past two years.
ICBC’s Jiang took a 10 percent pay cut in 2008, even as ICBC’s profit jumped 36 percent to $16.23 billion.
Aside from China, all of the banking CEOs included in the survey made at least $1 million last year. Total compensation included publicly disclosed bonuses, stock awards, options and other perks.
HSBC Holdings, the world’s third-largest bank by market capitalization, paid CEO Michael Geoghegan $2.8 million in 2008 — much more than his Chinese counterparts but far less than JPMorgan paid Dimon.
Outside the United States, the highest-paid bank CEO works for Banco Santander SA, which has the seventh-largest market cap and paid Alfredo Saenz $13.66 million for 2008.
Royal Bank of Canada paid Gordon Nixon $9.5 million, while Australian CEOs Ralph Norris of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Gail Kelly of Westpac Banking Corp made $8 million and $7.4 million, respectively.
Japan’s biggest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ, did not release the pay details of its CEO.
Alan Johnson, a Wall Street compensation consultant with Johnson Associates, said much is lost in translation when comparing CEO pay from country to country.
And that will make it difficult for world leaders to find consensus at the G20 summit.
“Different cultures, different disclosures,” Johnson said. “It just highlights the difficulty across the world in trying to make far-reaching pay decisions.”
To Anderson, though, comparing bank CEO pay around the world makes the issue much more clear-cut.
“These kinds of figures undercut the main argument by the U.S. financial industry lobby that they will lose top talent to competitors in Europe or Asia,” Anderson said.
Reporting by Steve Eder; Additional reporting by George Chen in Hong Kong, Samuel Shen in Shanghai, Michael Wei in Beijing, Ian Simpson in Milan, Judy MacInnes in Madrid, Lisa Jucca in Zurich, Morag MacKinnon in Sydney, Andrea Hopkins in Toronto, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Steve Slater in London, Nathan Layne in Tokyo, and Michael Flaherty in Hong Kong; editing by John Wallace