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A man walks in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia building in Toronto’s financial district on Monday, June 2, 2014. Bank of Nova Scotia was the only lender to set aside less for performance-based compensation this year, while Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal posted the biggest gains.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Canada's six biggest banks set aside 4.3 per cent more for bonuses in 2015 – a third the rate of last year's increase – as investment-banking fees shrank and revenue growth at capital-markets operations slowed.

Bonus pools at the country's largest banks climbed to $12.5-billion for the year ended Oct. 31, compared with $12-billion reserved in fiscal 2014, according to financial disclosures. Bank of Nova Scotia was the only lender to set aside less for performance-based compensation this year, while Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal posted the biggest gains. This year's increase compares with a 13 per cent surge in 2014 and 3.5 per cent rise in 2013.

"The chatter is that it's definitely going to be a down year," said Brent Ludwig, chief executive officer of Ludwig Wessel and Associates, a Calgary-based financial-services recruitment firm. "If your compensation stays flat, you've had a winning year."

The slowdown in bonuses reflect a weak year for underwriting of equity and government debt, even as the pace of mergers picked up. Banks collectively reported $4.37-billion in underwriting and advisory fees this year, down 4.5 per cent from the record $4.58-billion in fiscal 2014, according to disclosures.

"Compensation this year is going to be a grab bag," said Bill Vlaad, president of Vlaad & Co., a Toronto-based recruitment firm that monitors compensation trends. "Some are going to have a good deal of candy in the bag and some are not going to get as much."

Canadian bank bonuses may outpace those at U.S. firms. Incentive compensation at major U.S. banks is down for 2015, especially for those in fixed income and underwriting, according to Johnson Associates Inc., a New York-based compensation-consulting firm. Citigroup Inc. plans to leave its bonus pool unchanged from 2014, people familiar with the decision have said, joining JPMorgan Chase & Co. in keeping payouts at last year's levels. Deutsche Bank is among global firms considering reducing bonuses, weighing a 30 per cent cut.

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How the Big Six stack up (note that variable compensation reflects the amount reserved, not paid out, and doesn't include base salaries or other compensation):

Royal Bank of Canada

$4.53-billion set aside in variable compensation, the most of any bank. That's 3.3 per cent higher than in 2014., when bonuses jumped 13 per cent. Royal Bank, which became the first Canadian lender to surpass $10-billion in earnings last fiscal year, was the only lender to post higher underwriting and advisory fees, with a 4.2 per cent increase.

Toronto-Dominion Bank

$2.06-billion set aside, a 6.7 per cent increase from last year. That's down from the 18 per cent increase the previous year.

Bank of Nova Scotia

$1.44-billion in performance-based compensation, down 2.4 per cent as revenue from capital markets declined.

Bank of Montreal

$2.09-billion in bonuses, up 7.6 per cent. That's a bigger gain from last year, as 2014 bonuses were up 6 per cent.

CIBC

$1.57-billion set aside in the bonus pool, an increase of 5.7 per cent. to $1.57-billion, less than half last year's 14 per cent increase.

National Bank of Canada

$808-million set aside for variable compensation, a 5.4 per cent increase from 2014.