U.S. regulators want to put an end to a long-time Wall Street custom of giving executives multimillion-dollar windfalls when they leave for government jobs.
The practice, where banks accelerate payments of stock options and other awards that may not be due for years, has benefited top appointees such as Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as well as numerous lower-level officials. The payouts have come under scrutiny as lawmakers and the 2016 presidential candidates decry the closeness of Washington to the finance industry.
Language barring the immediate vesting of deferred compensation was tucked into a rule proposed last week that seeks to rein in improper risk-taking by bankers, brokers and asset managers. If approved, the measure could force financiers to leave a huge chunk of their bonus on the table, significantly changing the calculus for those considering a stint in public service.
“It’s good to see that regulators are concerned,” said Heather Slavkin Corzo, director of the office of investment at the AFL-CIO, which has campaigned to limit such awards, arguing that they can lead to lax oversight. “If somebody’s just given you a big wad of money they weren’t required to give you, it might give you a warm, fuzzy feeling about them.”
Speeding up payouts is often a perk reserved for employees who accept government positions. Those who jump to competitors usually lose deferred compensation, which is meant to foster loyalty and help banks retain their best workers.
Agencies slipped the provision into the bigger pay proposal released April 21, writing that accelerating incentive compensation is “generally inappropriate,” unless it’s for reasons out of the employees’ control -- such as death or disability. The broader plan is required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
The National Credit Union Administration was the first of six regulators to propose the rule. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is scheduled to vote next on April 26. The regulation is subject to months of public comment and potential re-writing before a final version will take effect.
Lew joined the Obama administration in 2009 from Citigroup Inc., which had stipulated in his employment contract that it wouldn’t pay incentive and retention awards if he quit. However, the agreement provided an exemption if Lew accepted a high-level position in the U.S. government. In a federal financial disclosure form, Lew noted that he was due to receive $250,000 to $500,000 worth of accelerated Citigroup stock when he left the company. He also reported $1.1 million of salary and discretionary cash compensation.