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The Case for Intervening in Bankers' Pay

62 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2010 Last revised: 18 Mar 2014

John E. Thanassoulis

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School; Oxford-Man Institute, University of Oxford; Nuffield College, University of Oxford

Date Written: July 20, 2011


This paper studies banker remuneration in a competitive market for banker talent. I model, and then calibrate, the default risk of the banks generated by investments and remuneration pressures. Competing banks prefer to pay their banking staff in bonuses and not in fixed wages as risk sharing on the remuneration bill is valuable. Competition for bankers generates a negative externality driving up market levels of banker remuneration and so rival banks' default risk. Optimal financial regulation involves an appropriately structured limit on the proportion of the balance sheet used for bonuses. However stringent bonus caps are value destroying, default risk enhancing and cannot be optimal for regulators who control only a small number of banks. The paper allows an assessment of the intellectual arguments behind widespread calls to regulate the pay of bankers. The paper uses US data to calibrate the analysis and demonstrate the significant contribution of remuneration to default risk.

Keywords: Bonuses, Default Risk, Competition for Bankers

JEL Classification: G21, G34

Suggested Citation

Thanassoulis, John E., The Case for Intervening in Bankers' Pay (July 20, 2011). Journal of Finance, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

John E. Thanassoulis (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

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Oxford-Man Institute, University of Oxford ( email )

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Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6ED
United Kingdom

Nuffield College, University of Oxford ( email )

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Oxford, OX1 1NF
United Kingdom

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