COMPENSATION at the world's biggest banks rose last year, with 35 of them spending a combined 10 billion euros (US$13.1 billion) more on staff than in 2011, figures compiled by Reuters show.
Bankers' remuneration has rarely been out of the spotlight over the last five years, as the industry's powerhouses were rescued from the brink during the financial crisis with hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars.
Policymakers have since fought to curb the bonuses they say encouraged excessive - and sometimes catastrophic - risk-taking.
Capping absolute pay levels is off-limits for regulators, but banks have talked a lot about cutting staff costs.
Reuters analyzed the 2012 results reported by banks in the benchmark EuroStoxx 600 index and their US competitors and found staff costs rose to 275 billion euros across the group.
Two thirds of the banks analyzed increased compensation per person, though several attributed this at least in part to redundancy issues. The compensation ratio - the industry's preferred yardstick, which measures staff expenses against revenue - was up for 18 of the 35 banks.
Bonus cap necessary
Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament who has also been outspoken on bank pay and supported a cap on bank bonuses recently agreed by members of the parliament, says the figures prove that, left to their own devices, banks do not reduce pay.
"To me it confirms that what we are doing on the remuneration front is necessary," said Lamberts, referring to efforts to restrict remuneration through bonus rules and other provisions in a European Union package of bank regulations.
A recent survey from recruitment agency Morgan McKinley showed that bank staff who changed jobs in London in January enjoyed average pay rises of 23 percent.
But banks baulk at the suggestion they are paying staff more, saying things are more complex than the figures suggest.
US retail banking giant Wells Fargo, however, was comfortable with the fact that per-person compensation rose 2 percent last year and stands at the equivalent of 83,000 euros, placing the bank at the middle of the compensation table.
"We support our team members as a competitive advantage and are committed to compensating them based on performance," a spokeswoman said.
Wells Fargo recorded pretax earnings of 28.5 billion euros in 2012, an increase from 23.7 billion euros in 2011.
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