Nordic banks likely to play it safe around bonuses to prevent public backlash

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Swedish bankers may be able to pat themselves on the back they've "read" the financial crisis better than most in Europe this year - but it's unlikely to lead to a bonanza in bonus payouts.

Last month, research by recruitment firm Hays argued that Swedish top executives, albeit not just in banking, had earned some of Europe's biggest bonuses this year, with cash compensation up 16% on average.

Yet, overall, sensitivity to public anger is likely to mean bonuses will still be held down within many banks this year, despite the sterling performance of some departments, predicts Anders Borg, president of recruiter Hansar International.

Indications from this year's Q3 results from the major Nordic banks point to a reluctance to drastically increase compensation.

"This year's bonus round is, I think, going to be very interesting from the Nordic context because many people last year had less than fantastic bonuses," he says.

"Secondly, it is still something that is a very sensitive issue socially. So overall I suspect people will be expecting, at best, the same as last year or, more probably, even a little less. I don't think many people expect the top end of the curve to rise that much," he adds.

The insularity of the Nordic financial services sector means bankers generally have less bargaining power if bonuses are not what they expect, compounded by the fact it is well-recognised many people choose to work in the region for quality of life issues as much as the remuneration.

"For the banks one advantage is that, unlike in London or New Year where there is always the threat that if you don't get a certain bonus you are going to move to, say, Frankfurt or somewhere else, in the Nordics the market does tend to be more settled. People are more likely to think in more modest terms," says Borg.

"People working in smaller, private firms may have a greater chance of a bigger bonus. It will be harder for the big banks because it is just that much more conspicuous," he adds.

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