Executive Compensation Pros Urge Caution on Comparisons
As executive compensation is made increasingly public, and credit union professionals become privy to what their colleagues earn, they're sharing the information with each other and the press.
John Andrews, executive vice president of compensation for the Houston-based D. Hilton Associates, cautioned against comparing compensation data available to the public, like figures available on IRS 990 tax forms. Tax forms and the information reported in them are open to interpretation by accountants, he said, and may not report compensation in the proper context.
In order to effectively evaluate a compensation plan, he said, three components must be considered: the CEO and the components of his or her compensation package; the credit union's financial performance during that time period; and the credit union's business strategy as determined by the board of directors.
Sue Mitchell, CEO of the Las Vegas-based consulting firm Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates, agreed that differences in credit union compensation philosophies make packages difficult to compare.
"At first, we look at total compensation numbers, and some of them might seem shocking," she said. "But often, those numbers are being taken out of context."
If a credit union's compensation philosophy places a strong emphasis on profitability, and the executive hit the goal, the executive deserves the pay as agreed, she said.
"Because times are tough, does that mean we automatically restrict compensation for everyone?" she asked. "I'd think right now, especially if your credit union was struggling, you'd want to recruit the best of the best."
Mitchell said differences in executive compensation can cause discord among executives at industry roundtables and other events.
"Some may say, 'Wow, I'm not being paid at that level,'" she said. "It's a tough time to emotionally justify raises and bonuses. Perhaps we can justify someone's pay intellectually but emotionally, it can be a distraction."
Many baby boomer executives are approaching retirement age and have already given up salary increases and bonuses for the past couple of years, she said, which fuels the emotional fire.
Website Guidestar.org, which publishes information about nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations, provides access to 990 IRS forms filed by state-chartered credit unions and industry organizations.
The website reveals that the CEOs of the ?largest credit unions listed have similar comp-?ensation packages.
According to 990 forms posted on Guidestar's website, President/CEO Jim Blaine of the $20.5 billion State Employees' Credit Union earned a compensation package worth $707,871 in 2008. Comparatively, Teresa Halleck, president/CEO of the $7.8 billion The Golden 1 Credit Union took home a total compensation package worth $609,442 in 2009. President/CEO David Mooney of the $7.2 billion Alliant Credit Union received compensation worth $621,232 in 2008.
The website also reveals credit unions that are paying their executives more.
Stephen Punch, president/CEO of the $1 billion Pacific Service Credit Union, earned more than $1 million in 2008, according to the website.
"If I'm bringing home $1 million, the person who would be most interested to know about it would be my wife," Punch joked.
His total compensation as reported on page 7 of the forms was $1,047,861. However, on page 18, that figure is broken down further to reveal that more than half of that amount, $600,583, was earmarked for a deferred compensation plan.
In reality, Punch's 2008 base salary and incentive pay was a little more than $400,000, which is more in line with what his California colleagues took home.
Punch explained that because he was hired in late 2007, his 2008 compensation is more complex than normal and includes not only the large deferred compensation figure but also relocation expenses.
Mitchell said boards are leaning toward a more formalized approach to compensation as a result of the information now being made available to other credit unions and the public.
"In the past, it used to be compensation was based upon your annual review and a quick check to see where you fell in the CUES percentile," she said. "Now, boards are asking if they have the appropriate leadership and correct skill sets in place to get the type of performance members expect."
Punch said he hasn't received any backlash from colleagues or members regarding his compensation, but he said as the media reports more on the topic, he might.
"In a recession such as this one, the choices a CEO made three or four years ago are certainly influencing the credit union's performance today, so if a board is looking at how effective their hiring decisions have been, perhaps they can judge from that standpoint," he said. "But if you're a board looking to save money, you may find you don't like the performance you'll receive in exchange for saving a few tens of thousands of dollars. I've known boards that have passed on a candidate over $25,000 and later wished they hadn't. "