Battle for talent widens the pay gap in Kenya’s top banks

Executive compensation takes centre stage as lenders search for talent to beat rivals. Photo/GRAPHICS

Executive pay in the banking sector rose faster than other employees’ take home last year helped by a vicious war for talent as competition intensified in the lending market, raising the compensation bar, industry statistics show.

Top bankers’ payroll grew by more than 30 per cent in the year buoyed by a rise in the number of managers and intense competition for top talent that required lucrative perks to hire and retain.

Widen the pay gap

This helped widen the pay gap between the executives and the rest of staff – especially in the industry’s top players.

Equity, KCB, CfC Stanbic and Barclays banks paid out hundreds of millions of shillings to their executives in a trend that could add spark in the executive pay debate in Kenya that has been raging in Europe and the United States for nearly a decade.

Micro-lender Equity Bank ran the biggest executive payroll that closed the year at Sh645 million in 2010 from Sh496 million the previous year.

It was followed closely by KCB whose top managers took home Sh489 million up from Sh332 million.

CFC Stanbic come in third with a wage bill of Sh441 million having jumped from Sh428 million in 2009. This has been partly attributed to the high number of expatriates working in the bank that is majority owned by South Africa’s Standard Bank.

CfC Stanbic, which is among Kenya’s second tier banks, spent more on executive pay than Barclays Bank’s Sh330 million, which was up from Sh250 million.

Standard Chartered Bank was the only top bank to reduce its pay from Sh293 to Sh279 million.

With assets worth Sh107 billion and a net loan book of Sh58.9 billion, CfC Stanbic is a much smaller operation compared to Barclays whose assets are valued at Sh172 billion with a loan book of Sh87.1 billion.

Rapid growth

Though many of the banks have increased the number of executives and ultimately their wage bill, top bankers said rising cost of hiring a top talent contributed to the rapid growth of executive payroll.  

“Growth in executive remuneration for us was mainly driven by the hiring of additional executives to run our subsidiaries in the regional market,” said Martin Oduor-Otieno, the chief executive of KCB, the largest lender by asset base. “We offer a comprehensive remuneration package to our senior management and executives, including salaries and bonuses based on performance,” he said.

Kenya’s banking executives are better paid better than their peers in the telecoms and manufacturing sectors, a development that has been linked to a scarcity of talent in the marketplace.

David Muturi, the executive director of the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), said higher remuneration of top talent – who are the growth drivers in the banking sector – is the best way of attracting and retaining them. 

“In the new economy, banks and capital markets are developing good business ideas that are being copied with speed, forcing employers to be constantly on the lookout for innovators,” he said.

The pace at which executive pay has been growing has widened the gap between them and the rest of the workers.

At Equity Bank for instance, executive pay accounted for 12.3 per cent of the total wage bill last year compared with 11.4 per cent in 2009 while at KCB executives took home 5.2 per cent of the total compensation bill up from 4.6 per cent a year earlier.

Most bank executives believe talent will be key to future business growth signalling that top management’s pay is going to claim more territory in the near term.

“At the end of the day, we bet more on people than strategies, but the pool of talent is being stretched,” Mr Adan Mohamed, the Barclays Bank chief executive told Business Daily in a past interview.

Mr Mohamed reckons that having the right talent in executive suites has become the lifeline of many businesses, especially with that arrival of international firms.

This type of thinking is making human capital the most sought after resource in the production system as companies compete to grow market share.

In top demand are people who are technologically literate, globally astute and capable of not only developing but also executing strategy, setting off a scramble for staff among the top firms.

For instance, Kariuki Ngari who headed retail banking at Barclays Bank moved to Standard Chartered Bank in a similar capacity while Elly Odhong, who also headed retail banking at Barclays Bank left for CFC Stanbic to drive the same business line.

Commercial Bank of Africa snapped Jeremy Ngunze from Standard Chartered Bank while Philip Ilako is now the managing director of Middle East Bank having joined from Commercial Bank of Africa.

The growing executive compensation is set to pile pressure on staff costs at a time when some of the lenders are grappling with the burden of expanded management staff that grew by 1,275 last year to stand at 7,451.

The bulk of Equity’s payments went to the bank’s 13 executive directors who took Sh419 million compared to senior managers who shared Sh226 million.

The micro lender has four executive directors looking after its subsidiaries in Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania while the rest are spread out in key areas such as credit management and mobile banking that has become critical to growing its mass market business model.

The lender’s executive staff costs were also driven by a massive branch expansion last year which saw it open 116 new branches across the region to stand at a total of 165 branches.

The aggressive regional expansion has seen the bank’s executive pay grow nearly four times from Sh166 million in 2007 to last year’s Sh645 million.

KCB which had the fastest growth in executive pay last year reported lower total payouts compared to Equity though both banks have gone heavy on regional expansion, an indicator that KCB’s remuneration scale of its executive team could be less compared to that of Equity.

The bank paid executive and senior management Sh489 million compared to Sh332 million a year earlier, representing a growth of 47.2 per cent.

Unlike Equity, KCB opened only 15 new branches across the region last year though it had more executive directors than Equity, with 14 directors heading various divisions.

Though CFC Stanbic Bank grew its executive compensation by a mere three per cent, it has the biggest executive staff cost in the industry as measured by the size of its operations.

The bank has only 17 branches in the country but its executive staff grew from Sh428 million to stand at Sh441 million, beating Barclays and StanChart that have larger asset base and branch networks.

CFC’s outsized executive staff cost is driven by its heavy staffing of expatriates, including top economists from South Africa –the home of Standard Bank that acquired the local bank in 2008.

The executives from South Africa have been keen on growing the bank’s fortunes that rely heavily on the corporate sector.

The bank has gone heavy on the mortgage lending market and last year opened a branch at Ruaraka --a middle to low income zone in Nairobi—as it seeks to grow its retail business to reduce overreliance on the corporate side that rakes in over 70 per cent of its earnings.

Barclays Bank, which is expected to retrench 200 middle level managers, grew its executive compensation 32 per cent to stand at Sh330 million from Sh250 million.

The bank’s loan book has grown at a slower pace compared to its top tier rivals, with analysts attributing the trend to the bank’s maturing corporate market.

A cut in staff numbers is expected to reduce overall staff costs, the highest in the industry.

Barclays closed the year with the highest staff cost to income ratio at 31.9 per cent followed by KCB (30.3 per cent), Co-operative (28.2 per cent), Equity (23.5 per cent), and Standard Chartered (23.4 per cent).

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