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Dynamic Compensation under Uncertainty Shocks and Limited Commitment

AFA 2015 Boston Meetings Paper

44 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013 Last revised: 1 Feb 2018

Felix Zhiyu Feng

University of Notre Dame

Date Written: January 31, 2018


This paper studies dynamic firm compensation and risk management under cash flow volatility shocks. Back-loaded compensation with a penalty upon the arrival of a shock is used to incentivize effort and prudence from managers. As such, the implications of the shock depends critically on firms’ ability to commit to future compensation. Firms with full commitment power impose high pay-performance sensitivity and large penalties to implement low risk. Such firms defer compensation more when volatility becomes higher. In contrast, firms with limited commitment ability optimally allow excessive risk-taking from managers in exchange for low pay-performance sensitivity. These firms expedite compensation when volatility is higher, because their commitment to deliver on future payments becomes less credible. These predictions help make sense of empirical observations, in particular the controversial compensation practices during the recent financial crisis.

Keywords: dynamic compensation, limited commitment, volatility shock

JEL Classification: D82, D86, G34, M12

Suggested Citation

Feng, Felix Zhiyu, Dynamic Compensation under Uncertainty Shocks and Limited Commitment (January 31, 2018). AFA 2015 Boston Meetings Paper . Available at SSRN: or

Zhiyu Feng (Contact Author)

University of Notre Dame ( email )

3079 Jenkins-Nanovic
Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States
(574)631-0428 (Phone)


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