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Executive pay at FTSE 250 firms down by almost 20%, PwC analysis shows

Sep 20, 2021

The pay of FTSE 250 CEOs was down almost 20% in 2020 compared to 2019 as the pandemic impacted executive remuneration. Average tota; pay for FTSE 250 CEOs dropped by £300,000 from £1.6m to £1.3m, according to PwC analysis of the first 150 FTSE 250 companies to have published their 2021 remuneration reports.

Bonus outcomes for 2020 were significantly affected, with 40% of CEOs receiving no bonus for the year, compared to only 7% in 2019. Almost three quarters (73%) of cases where bonuses were not awarded came as a result of companies cancelling the bonus scheme for the year, exercising discretion to reduce the outcome to zero or executives deciding not to take their bonus. 

Of the FTSE 250 companies in the analysis that accessed the Government’s furlough scheme (or similar international equivalent) none paid their executive directors a bonus where they had not later repaid these funds and maintained their dividend policy or restarted their suspended dividend programme.  

Half of FTSE 250 CEOs and 45% of CFOs have had their salary frozen for 2021, demonstrating continued restraint as the impact of the pandemic, and other events such as Brexit, on businesses continues to be assessed and forecasted. Where salary increases were awarded, the increases were lower on average compared to last year at 2.4% and 2.1% respectively for CEOs and CFOs compared to 3.0% for 2020. 

Where a minority of companies have proposed increases above the wider workforce level, the proposals were often met with shareholder pushback. Overall shareholder voting outcomes on remuneration reports have been more polarising this year, with an increase of very strong support (90%+) but also an increase in the number of companies receiving significant votes against (20%+). The majority of companies receiving a significant vote against their remuneration report related to shareholder concerns about the alignment of company performance with remuneration outcomes or significant salary increases. 

Although the Investment Association (IA) was the only major proxy voting agency to issue detailed expectations for executive pay in UK companies in light of the pandemic, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) continues to have the strongest influence on voting outcomes; almost 80% of companies that received a significant vote against their remuneration report had had ISS issue an “Against” recommendation.

Companies are also acting to meet expectations under the UK Corporate Governance Code to align the pension contributions of executive directors with the wider workforce, with 45% already aligned and just over 90% due to be aligned by the end of 2022 in line with the IA’s guidance. The most common approach companies are taking to ensure alignment is by making a single reduction to the contribution level to take effect from 1 January 2023. Median contribution levels for incumbent CEOs and new CEOs are 14% and 8% of salary respectively.

Phillippa O’Connor, reward and employment leader at PwC, said:

“The 2021 AGM season has demonstrated that FTSE 250 remuneration committees have listened to investor guidance and expectations in light of the pandemic, operating with restraint in the majority of cases. Nevertheless, a higher proportion of companies suffered significant shareholder challenge compared to the 2020 AGM season. The greater conformity in the way shareholders are voting this year when it comes to remuneration packages, whether that be in strong support for or challenge against, suggests that shareholder voting issues have been more clear cut for 2021 AGMs.

“The environment we have experienced this year will likely continue into the 2022 AGM season, with more polarised voting outcomes to be expected and a continued focus from shareholders on ensuring pay and incentive payouts are aligned with the underlying performance of the business and the wider conditions of their workforce, customers and communities in which they operate.”

 

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Alice Bowdery

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