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The Bonus-Driven “Rainmaker” Financial Firm: How These Firms Enrich Top Employees, Destroy Shareholder Value and Create Systemic Financial Instability (revised)

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  • James Crotty

Abstract

Revised June 2011We recently experienced a global financial crisis so severe that only massive rescue operations by governments around the world prevented a total financial market meltdown and perhaps another global Great Depression. One precondition for the crisis was the perverse, bonus-driven compensation structure employed in important financial institutions such as investment banks. This structure provided the rational incentive for key decision makers in these firms (who I call “rainmakers”) to take the excessive risk and employ excessive leverage in the bubble that helped create the bubble and make the crisis so severe. This paper presents and evaluates extensive data on compensation practices in investment banks and other important financial institutions. These data show that rainmaker compensation has been rising rapidly, is very large, and has asymmetric properties that induce reckless risk-taking. Since boom-period bonuses do not have to be returned if rainmaker decisions eventually lead to losses for their firms, since large bonuses continue to be paid even when firms in fact suffer large losses, and since governments can be counted on to bail out the largest financial firms in a crisis, it is rational for rainmakers to use unsustainable leverage to invest in recklessly risky assets in the bubble. A review of the modest literature on financial firm compensation practices in general and those of investment banks in particular demonstrates that the giant bonuses of the recent past are not appropriate returns to human capital – they are unjustified rents. The paper discusses possible answers to the challenging questions: what is the source of rainmaker rents and how are they sustained over time? Answers to these questions can help guide debates over the appropriate regulation of financial markets. They are also necessary inputs to the development of an adequate theory of the “rainmaker” financial firm that can help us understand how these firms were able to maximize the compensation of their key employees through policies that destroyed shareholder value and created systemic financial fragility. To my knowledge, no such theory currently exists.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst in its series Working Papers with number wp209_revised3.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:uma:periwp:wp209_revised3

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Keywords: bonuses; investment banks; leverage; financial crisis; perverse incentives;

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References

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  1. Alan D. Morrison & William J. Wilhelm, 2004. "The Demise of Investment-Banking Partnerships: Theory and Evidence," OFRC Working Papers Series 2004fe14, Oxford Financial Research Centre.
  2. James Crotty, 2008. "Structural Causes of the Global Financial Crisis: A Critical Assessment of the ‘New Financial Architecture’," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2008-14, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  3. James Crotty, 2007. "If Financial Market Competition is so Intense, Why are Financial Firm Profits so High? Reflections on the Current ‘Golden Age’ of Finance," Working Papers wp134, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2009. "Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Corporate and Financial Sectors," NBER Working Papers 14681, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2009. "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 8973.
  6. Philippon, Thomas & Reshef, Ariell, 2009. "Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006," CEPR Discussion Papers 7282, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. James Crotty, 2009. "The Bonus-Driven “Rainmaker” Financial Firm: How These Firms Enrich Top Employees, Destroy Shareholder Value and Create Systemic Financial Instability," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2009-13, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  8. George A. Akerlof & Paul M. Romer, 1993. "Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 24(2), pages 1-74.
  9. Assar Lindbeck & Dennis J. Snower, 2001. "Insiders versus Outsiders," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 165-188, Winter.
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Cited by:
  1. James Crotty, 2011. "The Realism of Assumptions Does Matter: Why Keynes-Minsky Theory Must Replace Efficient Market Theory as the Guide to Financial Regulation Policy," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2011-05, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  2. Enrico Berkes & Ugo Panizza & Jean-Louis Arcand, 2012. "Too Much Finance?," IMF Working Papers 12/161, International Monetary Fund.
  3. Krishnan Sharma, 2012. "Financial sector compensation and excess risk-taking—a consideration of the issues and policy lessons," Working Papers 115, United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs.

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