Credit Suisse under fire from proxy advisers for CEO bonus

ZURICH (Reuters) – Two shareholder advisers have recommended Credit Suisse shareholders vote against the Swiss bank’s compensation report and a third backed the report while expressing reservations about whether management pay matched performance.

CEO Tidjane Thiam of Swiss bank Credit Suisse awaits the company’s annual news conference in Zurich, Switzerland February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The recommendations come ahead of the April 26 annual meeting, where the bank’s pay policy faces a non-binding shareholder vote.

Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam, at the helm of the second-biggest Swiss bank since 2015, got 12.65 million Swiss francs ($12.66 million) in total compensation in 2018, with short-term incentive awards (STI) of 4.94 million francs. That is up from 9.7 million francs total 2017 compensation and 3.98 million francs in STI.

Proxy adviser Glass Lewis cited an “unjustified CEO bonus increase” for Thiam in opposing the compensation report, which

Swiss ethical investment adviser Ethos also urged shareholders to reject.

“We are once again troubled by the board’s immediate exercise of upward discretion in increasing the CEO’s short-term incentive opportunity for the past fiscal year, which appears as an unnecessary anticipation of a reward for potential future results,” Glass Lewis wrote in a report seen by Reuters on Monday.

Glass Lewis has in recent years criticized Credit Suisse’s pay practices as inappropriate, but last year had backed the Credit Suisse pay scheme.

Institutional investor adviser ISS said a vote for the remuneration report was “warranted though not without concern”, noting Thiam’s STI opportunity rose following increases for other executives last year, “while there appears to be some concern regarding pay-for-performance alignment”.

It pointed out that Credit Suisse CEO’s total pay is a third higher than the median of its peers.

Still, it added, Credit Suisse had offered justification for higher pay opportunity, fixed compensation levels had remained stable, repurchased shares are used to settle equity awards, compensation was in line with market practice in most regards, and several positive changes had been implemented over past years.

Credit Suisse returned to an annual profit in 2018, its first since 2014, and had said rising pay reflected a job well done after restructuring, cost costs and a strategic shift toward more-stable wealth management from riskier investment banking.

“We take note of the recommendations put forward,” the bank said in response to Glass Lewis’s report. “Credit Suisse respects shareholder democracy.”

(This story has been refilled to correct second paragraph to show bank’s pay policy, not CEO pay, faces vote)

Reporting by Michael Shields and Oliver Hirt; Editing by David Evans

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