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Banking

Executive pay: To cap or not to cap?

Debate about compensation must address wider industry issues, but there are no easy solutions.

The issue of executive pay at investment banks is not easy to tackle. So good luck to Timothy Geithner, who says he plans to come up with "a very substantial change" to Wall Street compensation in coming weeks.

The US Treasury secretary has already said that he is against capping executive pay. Is that the right thing to do, however? For sure, imposing limits on how much Wall Street executives are paid has already had consequences. Senior personnel have been leaving banks in droves to head to boutiques or start up on their own. UBS is reportedly boosting salaries for its senior bankers by 50% in order to retain staff.

But talent leaving Wall Street to go to boutiques means that a new level of investment banking is emerging. Mid-tier investment banks such as Evercore, Rothschild, Blackstone and now Citadel will bring much-needed competition to the sector.

Spreading business among more banks can only be seen as positive. There was a definite sense over 2003 to 2007 that having power distributed among only a handful of large investment banks increased risk. If one firm is succeeding in selling risky products, then another large firm will do the same to compete.

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