UBS $37B Write Down, Part II: Compensation

Buried at the end of the report discussed earlier is the specific criticism of the financial compensation system in place at UBS for traders and the engineers of structured products.

The bigger question is how little their quaint little system differs from any other large bank or brokerage firm on Wall Street. Remind me to ask Johns Thain & Mack about that.


6.3.8 Compensation

UBS has identified the following contributory factors related to compensation and incentives:

Structural incentives to implement carry trades: The UBS compensation and incentivisation structure did not effectively differentiate between the creation of alpha (i.e., return in excess of a defined expectation) versus the creation of return based on a low cost of funding.

Asymmetric risk / reward compensation: The compensation structure generally made little recognition of risk issues or adjustment for risk / other qualitative indicators (e.g. for Group Internal Audit ratings, operational risk indicators, compliance issues, etc.). For example, there were incentives for the CDO structuring desk to pursue concentrations in Mezzanine CDOs, which had a significantly higher fee structure (approximately 125-150 bp) than High-Grade CDOs (approximately 30-50 bp).

Insufficient incentives to protect the UBS franchise long-term: Under UBS’ principles for compensation, deferred equity forms a component of compensation that generally increases with seniority. Essentially, bonuses were measured against gross revenue after
personnel costs, with no formal account taken of the quality or
sustainability of those earnings


Gee, with that compensation structure in place, how could anything possibly go awry . . . ?


Report on UBS’ $37 Billion Writedown

Bankers’ pay is deeply flawed
Raghuram Rajan
FT, January 8 2008 18:04

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  1. BRAZEL commented on Apr 26

    The foxes got into the henhouse when Glass Steagall was repealed. Proprietary traders with incredible incentives got their hands on the banks capital and the rest is history. Why be surprised?

    In the old days of specialist investment banks(often partnerships) they played with their own money. They were good at risk management and taking a long view back then

  2. lurker commented on Apr 26

    I love it! Now that the horses are long gone it is time for a careful structural analysis of the barn and critical look at the corporate “open door” policy. Wonder how much that 50 pages cost shareholders…
    Folks if capitalism/democracy doesn’t look a bit broken to you then you are not paying close enough attention.

  3. John Borchers commented on Apr 26

    It’s amazing that all banks left everything so levered. I guess they got into the habit of these values never trending down over the last 10 years.

    This stuff is like buying a 10 year LEAP option for $20 and seeing the value jump to $1000 but never cashing in. When that option starts to lose value instead of cashing it in and taking the profit they either let it ride or there is no one who wants to buy it.

    What they should have done is along the way everytime it doubled they should have cashed it out and lowered it’s leverage from 30:1 to 15:1.

    LEH is out in the market for cash again this weekend. This time it looks $500M. I can’t believe the shareholders don’t understand they will have very limited profit (if any) for many years to come.

    The banks keep accepting 8% bond rates for the money.

    I believe Gold, Oil and other commodities will crash down soon and they will take the market with it (slowly over time though). We have deflation coming, not inflation.

  4. MLM commented on Apr 26

    Maybe you could explain to those of us out here in the hinterlands exactly what is different between that list and the way half of the f’in financial industry is compensated. Heads I win, tails you lose, seems to be the standard model. No matter whether we’re talking trader vs. firm, partners vs. investors, or industry vs. society.

  5. Winston Munn commented on Apr 26

    Curious, but you also find this same increase-of-payout-for-higher-risk structure on a roulette table – only difference is in roulette the one who places the bet takes the losses.

  6. WormHoleForward commented on Apr 26

    This was all laid out and is being executed according to plan. When the time is right they will pull the triggers on derivatives, etc as well.

    From the ashes of the current monetary regime will rise the Phoenix, the savior of all things monetary, and you and I will be a little less free, a little more enslaved and a lot more ensnared by money.

  7. Sherman McCoy commented on Apr 26

    Management! Management! Management!

    Where the f–k were the guys at the top??

    I think this shows just how much the quants and the traders were doing their jobs… and doing them WELL… while the adults who should have been monitoring the classroom were busy renovating their $30M third homes.

    Look back in history, Barry! Ask how much of the philosophy at UBS has been infiltrated by the prediction-think of J. Doyne Farmer and his ilk. “Prediction Company” my ass! It’s not the specific models or products that I’m talking about but more so the general idea that MATHS KNOWS ALL. Who let that idea take hold over the whole organization? (Especially after LTCM??) And who structured incentives around that idea?

    Those responsible- the upper management- should be exiled to Saint Helena to live out their natural lives… it’ll be LOST meets THE HAMPTONS.

    Us maths guys should be let off the hook. Always f–king underrated. You know we built nuclear bombs in the 40s and 50s right? And still nobody really takes us seriously. Blow Japan or Russia up or blow up hedge funds, what we mathies do is BLOW STUFF UP…

  8. Winston Munn commented on Apr 26

    I can see the television ads now: At Wachovia, we recapitalize the old-fahioned way….

    Quote: “Wachovia Corp (NYSE:WB – News) is being investigated by federal prosecutors as part of a probe into alleged laundering of drug proceeds by Mexican and Colombian money-transfer companies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.” End Quote

    We dunt need no stinkin’ sovereign fund help! – unnamed Wachovia source

  9. Francois commented on Apr 26


    Speaking of Wachovia, they settled an egregious case of being a conduit for telemarketers who were scamming and ruining elderly people in PA for 5 years.

    Despite being repeatedly warned of the situation, they just let it run as is, for the fees were way too juicy.

    They got away almost scott free, barely a slap on the wrist when some of their upper management shoulda gone to jail.

    For banks, there is a free lunch. For the rest of us…well, need I say more?

  10. Bob A commented on Apr 26

    If you were a banker, and Congress had just changed laws to let you raise default rates on credit cards to the mid 30’s, and base that decision on things like not returning a library book on time, why the hell would you worry about getting in trouble for damn near anything? It would seem you have their balls in your briefcase and can do just about anything you want. Which they did.

  11. Declan Fallon commented on Apr 28

    No Trackback for Blogger….

    Come back Glass Steagall all is forgiven!

    “…Traders with the instincts for the long term of a great white shark got their hands on an all-you-can-eat buffet of capital and gorged [don’t take my word for this see ]. These guys are coin operated risk-reward junkies — your risk, their reward…”


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