How can you give cash compensation to an executive, yet claim it is not a salary or bonus? You call it a “retention bonus,” No, I am not making this up.
Note that AIG chose to make this disclosure the day before Thanksgiving, clearly choosing a time when it would attract the least notice. Not that it really matters. The talk about restricting executive compensation to bailout recipients has been just that, talk.
From the Financial Times:
One day after announcing strict limits on salaries and bonuses for its top tier of executives, AIG revealed that some of those executives will receive millions in “retention bonuses” next year…
The retention bonuses for 130 key executives were disclosed by AIG in September, after the US government rescued the firm from bankruptcy by purchasing 79.9 per cent of the company for $85bn. After the government takeover, Edward Liddy, the former Allstate chairman, was named chief executive and AIG offered retention bonuses to Mr Wintrob, head of AIG’s retirement services division, among others….
The company announced on Tuesday that Mr Liddy would be paid a salary of $1 for 2008 and 2009, and that Paula Rosput Reynolds, who joined AIG as chief restructuring officer in October, would receive no salary or bonus for 2008.
The company said the other five members of AIG’s seven-member leadership group would not receive annual bonuses for 2008 or salary increases through 2009.
AIG also said that the company’s senior partners, about 60 executives, would not earn long-term performance awards in 2008, not earn salary increases in 2009, and that the group’s annual bonuses would be limited.
An AIG spokesman said on Wednesday that retention bonuses were different from the annual bonuses included in Tuesday’s statement. In September, Mr Liddy pledged to sell off significant portions of AIG’s international operations in order to pay back the government loan. The company said at the time that retention bonuses would be necessary to maintain continuity and value at various AIG units.
“Retention bonuses are a better alternative for the repricing of option awards so long as they are reasonable, fully disclosed and truly needed to retain talent,” said Richard Ferlauto, director of corporate governance and pension investment at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
“But in this market we don’t see much clamour for executives who made big bets, cannot make risk and were paid more than they are worth,” he added.
Do you really believe, with massive deleveraging and all sorts of big financial firms, including insurers, teetering, that AIG executives have great employment prospects these days? But the bigger issue, as far as I am concerned, is the misrepresentation, trying to claim that AIG was forgoing significant senior level comp, only to learn that they define terms a bit differently than the rest of the world does.