The Real Problem Still Looms Large

This week, the New York Times reported that the Federal Reserve is completing a comprehensive review of incentive programs at the nation’s largest financial institutions. The findings are surprising given the role of the incentive programs in igniting the financial meltdown of 2008.  Here’s what the Federal Reserve has discovered.

The Federal Reserve, six months into a compensation review of the country’s 28 largest financial companies, has found that many of the bonus and incentive programs that economists say contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression remain in place, according to people briefed on the examinations.

Officials have found, for example, that risk managers at several of the biggest banks still report to executives who have influence over their year-end bonuses and whose own pay might be constricted by curbing risk. In many cases, risk managers do not have full access to the compensation committee of the banks’ boards.

The review also revealed that banks tend to set similar bonus formulas for broad sets of employees and often do not adjust payouts to account for risks taken by traders or mortgage lending officers. Bank executives and directors, meanwhile, are often in the dark on the pay arrangements of employees whose bets could have a potentially devastating impact on the company.

This disconnect between pay practices and risk taking is at the heart of the problem and must be resolved for financial institutions to thrive in the long-term. It starts with having a strong enterprise risk management infrastructure and framework as a foundation for addressing the major disconnects between the board, bank executives and line management. Then, financial institutions must begin to faithfully utilize risk-adjusted performance metrics to drive their pay practices. Until this happens, no amount of governmental regulatory reform will solve the real problem behind the financial crisis.


About Wheelhouse Advisors
Wheelhouse Advisors LLC is the publisher of The ERM Current™, an online publication and blog dedicated to providing the latest updates on current trends in Enterprise Risk Management & Control. Wheelhouse Advisors provides cost-effective Enterprise Risk Management & Control solutions to both large and mid-size corporations. To learn more about Wheelhouse Advisors, please visit our web site at

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