Bankers’ pay low on political agenda

Despite the grumbles, pay restrictions look set to remain in place for the foreseeable

Bank of Ireland chief financial officer Myles O'Grady's decision to exit leaves two of the State's remaining retail banks searching for a top bean counter.

Permanent TSB (PTSB) has had to make do with a temporary CFO since the previous incumbent, Eamonn Crowley, took on the top job in June last year.

Grant Thornton partner Paul McCann has been competently filling the role on an interim basis for the past year, though his workload has increased dramatically as PTSB looks to grow its balance sheet 50 per cent with a chunk of Ulster Bank's loans.

But the delay in filling the gap shows how challenging it is to get a sufficiently qualified and experienced person to take on a senior banking job with pay restrictions in place – and how banks find it frustratingly difficult to get a yay or nay out of the Central Bank as it vets top sector appointments.


Bank of Ireland was for a time more than happy to have AIB grumble publicly – and take the heat – about the "unfairness" of pay restrictions and bonus bans, a legacy of crisis-era industry bailouts.

‘Training ground’

Attendees at a Banking & Payments Federation annual conference in 2018 will recall how Bank of Ireland chairman Patrick Kennedy kept schtum when his then counterpart at AIB, Richard Pym, let rip at how pay restrictions had turned his company into a "training ground" for bankers who then move to higher-paid roles elsewhere.

Pym's CFO, Mark Bourke, had only just quit and, though he didn't know it then, his chief executive, Bernard Byrne, would hand in his notice within weeks.

Prompted by his bank’s own retention issues, Kennedy has more recently used its annual report to bemoan the restrictions. Most recently, in March, he argued the bank should be excused from the bonus ban because, unlike AIB and PTSB, it has repaid a €4.8 billion taxpayer bailout.

With the bank blaming the restrictions for O’Grady’s exit, it highlights the issue for investors as the Government is seeking to sell down its remaining stake in the bank. Proxy advisory firms have long made it clear they would like Irish bankers’ pay linked to performance as a way of promoting good governance.

That’s all well and good. But there are no votes in it for any finance minister to propose an easing of restrictions – especially in the current political environment.