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LONDON/ZURICH (Reuters) – Almost a third of Credit Suisse shareholders rejected the bank’s pay plan on Friday and UK rival Barclays was braced for a similar revolt as investors vented their fury at executive pay deals and called for a bigger slice of profits.Credit Suisse said 31.6 pct of investors who voted opposed the bank’s remuneration plan, the latest in a series of rebukes for top banks over pay, but still allowing the non-binding vote to pass.
Annual shareholder meetings were stormy at both Credit Suisse and Barclays, with many attendees complaining bosses are getting too big a slice of bank income at their expense.
Anger is also rife in the population at large that an industry whose excesses sparked the global economic downturn is still awarding its leaders multi-million dollar pay outs.
“People feel that bankers and the banking sector have lost touch with what’s real,” said Jim Arnott, 56, an executive coach in London who counts bankers among his clients.
“The majority of people feel it’s just a culture of greed.”
Credit Suisse chief executive Brady Dougan sought to head off criticism on pay in his address to around 1,700 investors.
“I recognise that this can be a very controversial topic … However, having the right policies and structures in place is particularly important for a global bank, which is dependent on experienced and highly qualified people,” he said.
But shareholders proved more angered than appeased by a 30-minute lecture on the bank’s pay practices by Aziz Syriani, who heads the board’s compensation committee.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves for taking so much money away from us. We are the owners of this bank, and you are our employees. We should be the ones who decide what you earn,” said Rudolf Weber, to applause from other shareholders.
Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius apologized for badly communicating the bank’s pay strategy and promised to “materially” increase the dividend shareholders receive, helping to lift the bank’s shares more than 4 per cent.
But he was heckled during his speech to a packed hall of about 2,000 shareholders and his comments about pay were greeted with laughter in some quarters.
Politicians and shareholder advisory groups urged investors to send a clear message to banks on the need for pay restraint.
“This is a good example of a company which recently … has been paying three times as much in bonuses as it was in dividends to its own shareholders and it’s a good example of shareholders standing up and saying no, this is not acceptable,” UK Business Secretary Vince Cable told ITV News.
Barclays paid out 660 million pounds ($1.1 billion) in dividends last year, while its bonus pot for investment bank staff was 1.5 billion pounds, and across the bank it paid 2.5 billion in “performance costs.”
Decent results from both Barclays and Credit Suisse this week may have taken the heat out of some investors’ anger, though many of the votes were made early in the week.
The Association of British Insurers and advisory group Pirc have opposed the pay for Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond, who took home 17 million pounds last year despite describing profitability as “unacceptable”.
The bank last week tweaked his award after investors voiced their anger in meetings with Agius, although many critics said it had not done enough.
Dougan was not Credit Suisse’s top earner for 2011 – that honour went to Robert Shafir, who earned 8.5 million francs for running the asset management arm which posted a 10 per cent rise in pretax profit.
Credit Suisse, which is cutting 3,500 jobs, said it has not paid top executives any cash awards for the past four years, opting for stock-based schemes linked to the bank’s share price.
At 1200 GMT, Credit Suisse shares were up 0.7 per cent at 22.26 francs, in line with Europe’s bluechip index.
The anger in Europe mirrors protests in the United States, where shareholders in Citigroup surprisingly voted down its executive pay plan last week, while protesters at Wells Fargo’s AGM turned up with a huge inflated rat, pockets stuffed with dollar bills.
(Additional reporting by Steve Slater and Yeganeh Tortbati in London; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter)
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