The major bank’s CEO has backed bonus payments to frontline staff despite evidence linking variable remuneration to poor customer outcomes and misconduct.
On Monday (19 November), the seventh and final round of the royal commission hearings kicked off with CBA chief executive Matt Comyn being grilled over the group’s remuneration structures.
Counsel assisting Rowena Orr questioned the major bank boss about frontline staff receiving ‘short-term variable remuneration’, or STVR.
“Short-term variable remuneration is what many people would think of as an annual bonus, is that right?” Ms Orr asked.
“Yes,” Mr Comyn confirmed. “We do not refer to it in that way, but it is a bonus.”
While he admitted that the bank has made a number of changes to its remuneration structure, including work towards the Sedgewick recommendations, Mr Comyn explained why CBA is standing firm on bonuses.
“We believe it is important to have an element of remuneration which is not fixed. We believe it is a well-designed set of metrics or a way for them to earn their short-term variable remuneration; it is both a way of eliciting discretionary effort and a way beyond termination as a form of consequences. It is also a way to make consequences clear to individuals,” he said.
After being prodded by Ms Orr for clarification, the CBA chief explained that “discretionary effort” is the difference between what staff might have otherwise have done if they were paid a fixed salary.
Ms Orr asked why staff can’t be motivated simply by being paid a fixed salary.
Mr Comyn used an offshore example to try and illustrate his response, alluding to a female employee at one financial institution in the United Kingdom that decided to stop paying bonuses.
“I’m talking specifically about a home lender. What they were in effect paid was 98.5 per cent of their prior year’s fixed remuneration and short-term variable reward. So they were guaranteed that remuneration,” he said.
“When I asked her what had changed, her answer was simply ‘I probably work 30 per cent less’. She was one of their best performing lenders.”
Mr Orr offered alternative ways of motivating staff instead of a bonus: “positive feedback for their performance; encouraging them to take pride in their work; encouraging them to have a sense of satisfaction in helping one of your customers; giving them additional responsibilities as a reward for performance; promotion; a higher base salary.”
Mr Comyn said all of these were appropriate ways of driving staff. However, he maintained that CBA has decided for now to continue using short-term variable rewards, or bonuses, to motivate fits sales force.
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