City & Corporate: Bosses 'told' to refuse bonuses

Banking City PROs say RBS and Lloyds chiefs were put under severe pressure after negative media reports.

Banking bosses at part-publicly owned RBS and Lloyds Banking Group had little choice but to refuse their bonus packages, according to City PR sources.

RBS CEO Stephen Hester turned down his £1.6m package on Sunday, while Lloyds boss Eric Daniels followed suit on his £2.3m bonus on Monday.

The decision followed that of Barclays' chief executive John Varley and its president Bob Diamond to turn down their share of the bank's £11.6bn record profit.

Following the Barclays story, the RBS and Lloyds bosses came under severe pressure to follow suit.

'I don't think Hester and Daniels had any choice; the PR negatives of taking the bonuses would have been far too high,' one senior City source noted. Another stated: 'Hester in particular was backed into a corner - he had to respond.'

Yet speculation in the media and among financial PROs suggested that just before the weekend both Hester and Daniels were prepared to take their bonuses. Hester in particular, one source noted, was heavily influenced by coverage in the Sunday newspapers and comments made by business secretary Lord Mandelson.

Mandelson told the BBC: 'If further down the line ... he has done well and he has turned round RBS he deserves something back for it and I would be the first to say so, but not now.'

One agency boss noted: 'Coverage of RBS was more positive leading up to the weekend, but Hester was basically told by (Mandelson) on Sunday to take a pay cut. Mandelson's comments made accepting the bonus impossible.'

Other City experts drew attention to damaging coverage of Hester in The Sunday Times, which pictured him on horseback in full riding regalia next to the headline 'Hester lines up £1.6m RBS bonus'.

'It looks awful,' noted one agency head, while another said the photo would be likely to 'haunt Hester forever'.

Lloyds acted quickly on Monday when the media lens was turned on Daniels, but one financial PR boss criticised RBS: 'Sadly it does look as though he (Hester) was bounced into it. RBS and its advisers spent Saturday sitting on the story when they should have neutralised it one way or the other.'

HOW I SEE IT

- Alex Evans, Founder, Uplands PR

The foregoing of bonuses by chief executives at RBS and Lloyds Banking Group was inevitable, but these institutions may now regret their perception as followers rather than instigators. First mover Barclays appears to have seen the end game more clearly and sought maximum PR kudos with regulators by being seen to do the right thing. Despite this largesse, the core questions around bank bonuses remain unresolved. There is a huge PR opening for the bank that makes the first move in this debate.

- Alex Sandberg, Chairman, College Hill

That picture of Stephen Hester on the horse couldn't have been worse timed. Doesn't it prove how careful you must be with shots and videos, as they're bound to come back and haunt you?

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