Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has requested an immediate review of CEO salaries at state-owned banks, Kjarninn reports. In a letter sent to the office of Icelandic State Financial Investments (BR) on Thursday, Bjarni stated that the decision of Landsbankinn and Íslandsbanki to raise their CEOs’ salaries “has already had a considerably negative impact on their reputations…as well as sending unacceptable messages” to those union members—specifically hotel cleaning staff—currently involved in ongoing wage disputes.
Bank CEO salaries have come under fire from many quarters after it was learned that Landsbankinn CEO Lilja Björk Einarsdóttir received significant pay raises twice in one year. She received her first raise of ISK 1.2 million [$10,045; €8,831] in July 2017, and then another increase of ISK 550,000 [$4,604; €4,047] in early 2018, making her total salary ISK 3.8 million [$31,809; €27,966] a month. Meanwhile, as of January 2017, Íslandsbanki CEO Birna Einarsdóttir was making ISK 4.2 million [$35,162; €30,912] a month, on top of which she also received ISK 200,000 [$1,674; €1,472] in perks and additional benefits.
In response, Már Guðmundsson, governor of the Central Bank of Iceland, warned against excessive pay raises in a recent video, saying they would inevitably lead to increased interest rates and unemployment in the country. The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) also weighed in, with director Halldór Benjamín calling the Landsbankinn bank council’s decision to raise Lilja Björk’s pay twice in one year “tone deaf.”
In his letter to BR, Bjarni stated that this current state of affairs requires “…a prompt review of salary decisions and preparation for changes in current wage policies, which will be submitted at the upcoming general meeting of the banks.” The letter continues by saying that the banks have not respected the state’s requests as far back as January 2017 that restraint and prudence be exercised in respect to all salary decisions.
Both Landsbankinn and Íslandsbanki’s board of directors have responded on their salary decisions in recent weeks. In a letter published on their website, Landsbankinn’s board noted that the criticism they’d received was “understandable,” given that they are owned by the state, but that the decision to raise Lilja Björk’s salary twice was due to the fact that “it was clear that [her salary] was lower than that of the highest executives at other large financial institutions.” They asserted that their CEO salaries had been much lower than those of their counterparts for “many years,” and thus the recent wages were more about establishing wage parity. In its own letter, Íslandsbanki noted that Birna’s salary has decreased ISK 600,000 [$5,025; €4,414] since 2016, but commended her abilities as a CEO, calling her a “strong leader” and similarly stating that the bank’s wage policy requires that CEO salaries be competitive with those of other banks.
Bjarni stated that both banks’ interpretation of the standards for salary increases is “narrow and one-sided” and hasn’t been put into the necessary context. “Trust and confidence must be able to prevail between those who’ve been entrusted with the management of important corporations and those authorities who are responsible for their management as owners.”
This current letter is Bjarni’s second on the matter; he first sent a letter to the two banks about their salary decisions on February 12.