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Siobhan Creaton: €1m a year to run AIB? They'd better be worth it

AIB chairman David Hodgkinson is no doubt relying on the 'L'Oreal' defence to argue for the bank's new boss to be paid more than €500,000. The words "because he's worth it" are probably ringing in Finance Minister Michael Noonan's ears as AIB tries to persuade him to let them finally seal a deal with the man they want to run the bank.

Two former bankers, David Duffy and Brendan McDonagh, who are now working as consultants outside of Ireland, are said to be the front-runners for the bank chief's job and clearly Mr Hodgkinson believes they won't be breezing into its Ballsbridge HQ any time soon for that kind of money.

It seems like a heck of a lot of money to most people. It's twice as much as Taoiseach Enda Kenny is paid to run the country and he's not impressed with the request to raise the pay ceiling. Speaking in the Dail yesterday, the Taoiseach said it would have to be "a truly exceptional case" for the Government to sign off a bigger pay deal and that he hasn't seen any evidence of that so far.

The fact that it was the well-paid bankers who bankrupted Ireland in the first place won't be lost on Kenny, Noonan or the Irish public.

So arguing that a pay deal that will give either Mr Duffy or Mr McDonagh something closer to €1m a year to run the nationalised bank will ultimately benefit the taxpayers is hard to swallow.

It's not so long ago that Bank of Ireland's former boss, Brian Goggin, spoke on television about the big sacrifice he was making when his pay was cut from €4m to €2m a year before the banks here failed. It makes you wonder if he or Anglo's David Drumm or AIB's former top banker Eugene Sheehy had been paid less could they have done a worse job?

But let's look at the AIB job and what Mr Duffy or Mr McDonagh will be taking on if the price is right.

Mr Hodgkinson has been with AIB for almost a year and has been working on a plan, presumably, that will knock the bank into better shape for the future and one day return some of the almost €20bn it has cost the State to save it. He will have held many meetings with the Department of Finance and its "banking tsar" John Moran, the man Noonan has charged with overseeing the bank rescue programme and consulted with the European Union about what the bank can and can't do in drawing up his blueprint for AIB. Just what it contains is a closely guarded secret within the bank, known only to his top lieutenants.

Mr Hodgkinson has announced one brutal fact about it so far -- that the bank intends to axe at least 2,000 jobs. Everyone at the bank is anxiously waiting to hear where the cuts will be made and there is a feeling this job will be one of the first tasks handed to the new bank boss.

In essence, his challenge will be to shrink AIB even further.

The bank will be selling off other parts of its business, will almost certainly be thinking about outsourcing some of its functions and would sell its UK and Northern Ireland operations if it found a buyer who offered a decent price.

So, on the face of it the next AIB chief executive's job is to wind the bank down even further and focus on making it a strong regional bank that just operates in Ireland, the exact opposite of what is usually expected of a bank boss.

THE EBS is also part of AIB now and its fate will also have to be considered. The 2,000 job cuts already mentioned don't include the EBS staff so that figure could rise and the man in the top AIB job will have to decide whether ultimately EBS should be fully absorbed into the bank or sold off to a foreign bank in the future.

The fact that both of the front runners are consultants might suggest Mr Hodgkinson and the Department of Finance are seeking an enforcer, someone who will come in and execute their plan over perhaps a couple of years -- and the bank chairman thinks they need a few bob more to do just that.

The other argument may be that Ireland's newest banker has an even better plan for AIB than Mr Hodgkinson and the minister and that because of his vision and ability to get results he is worth more than €500,000, although the Taoiseach's comments would suggest otherwise.

Or maybe Mr Hodgkinson believes after his dealings with Ireland's senior politicians and their advisers that the new candidate should at least get a premium for the grief and frustration that can bring.

Mike Aynsley, the man who came to Ireland from Australia to run Anglo, a bust bank that is being wound down over the next 10 years, already earns way more than this amount.

Last year his pay package was worth €974,000 including a €500,000 salary, €133,000 worth of pension contributions and relocation expenses totalling €342,000. It is likely that something similar is being proposed by Mr Hodgkinson.

So as the minister decides if it is worth lifting the bankers' pay cap for the new AIB man, he does so in the knowledge that the entire bank bailout could cost about €50bn.

Spending a few hundred thousand more to pay the right person for a few years to bring AIB back from the brink and ease the taxpayers' burden may prove to be a good decision in the longer term.

Irish Independent