Stephen Hester has finally done the right thing.
Now he just needs to do it again – and again. The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland should waive his bonus until the taxpayer has been repaid, with interest.
If he wants to turn recent adverse publicity to advantage he should make the announcement straight away. He should go further. He should declare a bonus moratorium for all of the bank's staff until the taxpayer has a profit to show from its shareholding of more than 80%.
This bold move would re-position him and the bank with the grain of society. It would put the needs of the taxpayer, the owner, that's you and me, above that of the managers. At a stroke he would rebrand RBS. He would restore the reputation it once held for stability and probity. It would feel like the people's bank for the right reasons, not just because we are reluctant owners.
If, on the other hand, he has turned down £900,000 this year only to claim a similar or larger sum next year, he'll achieve the reverse. The same arguments against paying it will be trotted out. Rightly so. The same pressure will be exerted by politicians.
The battle of Mr Hester's bonus will become an annual event and every time it comes around the bank's bad reputation will become worse. If he plans to follow that ill-advised course he might as well bin his advertising budget right now. Any good that is achieved by showing a film of Highland farmers driving through heart-swelling scenery to deposit their savings will be wiped by an annual venting of rage. No association with rugby union will redress the offence.
By contrast he could plant the RBS flag on the moral high ground. He could set a new standard of behaviour by declaring the entire institution will eschew bonus payments until the bank is back on its feet and the taxpayer has been reimbursed. What's more Lloyds, 40% owned by you and me, should follow suit. It would give the whole country a life, renew our faith in decency. Instead of his character being assassinated, Mr Hester would be lauded and respected. He would be an inspiration to bankers and businessmen the world over: a beacon of rectitude.
The bank's chairman Sir Philip Hampton turned down his £1 million plus bonus this year on the grounds that it would "not be appropriate". He argued that Mr Hester's case was different; that with a salary of £1.2m, the chief executive is already amongst the lowest paid of his peer group.
That is true but critics say part of the problem with bankers is that they measure their pay against their peer group when they should measure it against their share price. RBS shares have fallen by 37% in the past year.
Mr Hester is a clever man who already has great wealth. He might reflect that there is more than one way of being rewarded.
Was money what kept Andy Murray fighting for five gruelling hours against Novak Djokovic on Friday? Was it money that motivated Djokovic to play through another five hours of muscle pain and bleeding feet to defeat Rafael Nadal? A prize of money alone doesn't make Olympians in any sphere.
Walking away from future bonuses in the way I have suggested would gain Mr Hester a place in history. The name Hester would become synonymous with a selfless deed for the general good. What about the workers, you will ask? What about the minions in RBS on low basic pay who rely on commission? What indeed.
I can't imagine the psychological strain that must be their daily lot. Well I can actually and it isn't restricted to banks. Wasn't it workers relying on commission who sold mortgages to people who had no possibility of affording them?
I know companies where department heads, determined to achieve bonuses, set short-term aims at the expense of the core business. It might temporarily increase the share price but it equates to a farmer forcing a bumper crop out of the same field every year. It's a short cut to famine.
I wouldn't weep if the bonus culture was replaced by a decent basic salary with merit payments to reward exceptional achievement. What is wrong with that?
Mr Hester was pictured in a weekend paper astride a horse, against a backdrop of his many mansions. It sat on the table alongside stories of people afflicted with physical or psychological illnesses who are being declared fit for work by the new tough assessment.
On Radio 4, Any Questions audience members supported a £26,000 cap on benefits despite knowing it will force some families out of their homes. They would not exempt children's allowance. Times are hard and attitudes have hardened. When bills are high, work is insecure and people are struggle to make ends meet, compassion is reserved for the truly needy. It's a sharp turnaround from years of overspending but public opinion is as fickle as the markets. Not long ago Sir Fred Goodwin snapped his fingers and Scotland jumped. On Sunday I read an article headlined: "Who would want a knighthood when Fred Goodwin has one?"
Mr Hester is mending what Sir Fred and his contemporaries broke. Now this bonus row gives him an opportunity to restore his bank's reputation. He's right to say his contract was negotiated in good faith and the RBS remuneration committee agreed the bonus. Since the bail-out, the real remuneration committee is the public; the owners.
It isn't just affecting the banks. At a dozen AGMs – including that of easyJet and Thomas Cook – shareholders kicked up a storm about executive pay.
There are calls for those leading our nationalised banks to behave more like public servants. It has merit. Others say banks like RBS are colossi which span the globe and therefore we can't pin down the salaries of those who manage them. We're threatened that without bonuses the best will leave for better-paid posts. So be it. Since they're in the risk business, bankers will understand why we'll risk replacing them with intelligent leadership that isn't motivated by personal greed.
And how would I incentivise senior executives? A good salary and pension (in their case, very good) and the prospect of dismissal works for most of us.
Ridding RBS of the bonus culture won't solve our problems. But it would heal wounds. It would reassure taxpayers that decency still abounds, that those turning the banks around are on side and part of the same team.
And it will appease those who grow daily poorer that finally we just might be all in this together.
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