Jamie Dimon’s pay is fair, but only if you're him

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JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon speaks at the North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) 2019 legislative conference in Washington, U.S., April 9, 2019.

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NEW YORK, Jan 21 (Reuters Breakingviews) - How much pay is enough? It’s a trick question, because for America’s top corporate executives, there’s no such limit. JPMorgan’s (JPM.N) board awarded read more Chief Executive Jamie Dimon $34.5 million in pay for steering the U.S. bank through 2021, a 10% increase. It’s a colossal sum, enough to pay more than 1,500 typical employees at Walmart (WMT.N), say. But CEOs think about these things differently.

Of his pay, $6.5 million comes in cash and the rest over time in shares if the bank hits certain targets. Money in the future is worth less than money today. But the amount by which a recipient adjusts for that effect – the discount rate – matters.

Dimon can’t cash in the $28 million performance-linked part of his award for five years. Banks like to argue their chiefs could go and work for a private equity firm, say, where pay can be far higher. Because of that thinking, a CEO’s personal discount rate is likely to be very high. Based on research by Alexander Pepper, a professor at the London School of Economics, it’s 33% per year. Dimon’s delayed award, adjusted by that factor, is worth a relatively modest $13.2 million today.

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Most mere mortals wouldn’t discount the pay package at all. Even for those working with a discount rate of 10%, about the average investors have made on JPMorgan’s stock each year over the past decade, Dimon’s package is still worth $23.9 million, around 30% less than the headline amount.

Every bank also points to rivals’ pay to justify its own. But this year, there ought to be more questions about adding more to Dimon’s motivation. Last summer, he was handed an extra bonus read more – worth around $50 million, Breakingviews calculated at the time – which he’ll collect if he sticks around for up to another decade.

Shareholders will be asked to give their rubber stamp to JPMorgan’s executive pay plans in a few months. They have done so every year for over a decade. Boards, politicians and customers also implicitly back JPMorgan’s pay by variously setting remuneration, standing ready to rescue lenders, declining to legislate on executive pay, and sticking with their accustomed bank rather than defecting to any of America’s 5,000 others. That all means the CEO worldview is likely to prevail: For Dimon, his pay is fair.

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

CONTEXT NEWS

- JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon will get a 9.5% raise in annual pay, bringing his total compensation for 2021 to $34.5 million, the bank said on Jan. 20.

- Dimon's total compensation will include an annual base salary of $1.5 million and performance-based incentive pay of $33 million, according to a regulatory filing.

- Separately, in July 2021, Dimon received 1.5 million stock options to induce him to stay in his role for a “further significant number of years.”

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Editing by Richard Beales and Sharon Lam

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