In case you had any doubts about the propriety of Merrill’s 2008 pay packages, this Wall Street Journal story on the continuing slugfest between Merrill’s former CEO John Thain and Bank of America’s chief Ken Lewis should put any doubts to rest:
According to a securities filing last week, Merrill’s overall compensation and benefit expenses were down by 5.7%, to $15 billion in the year ended Dec. 26, from $15.9 billion a year earlier. The average Merrill employee got $247,423 in compensation and benefits in 2008, down just slightly from 2007.
By contrast, Bank of America employees got $75,577 in average compensation and benefits in 2008, down from $89,420 in 2007.
The gap in pay between commercial bankers and investment bankers is one of the biggest sources of friction, but the fact that far less handsomely paid workers took far bigger hits is rubbing salt into an open wound.
Thain defended the Merrill pay levels by saying the discretionary bonus pool fell 41% last year. Hhm, that would seem to imply that during his tenure, there was a much higher proportion of staff with “fixed” compensation levels, meaning guaranteed bonuses. It appears that Thain and his hires shifted average comp significantly (as in skewed it considerably from what it would otherwise have been).