Chief executive officers were well rewarded for the financial services industry's strong performance last year, an Arthur Andersen & Co. survey indicates.

On average, financial services CEOs earned more in both salary and bonus than their counterparts at nonfinancial companies, according to data compiled by Arthur Andersen Human Capital Services in Atlanta and Financial Executives Institute of Morristown, N.J.

Top executives at the 51 financial companies among the 428 in the 1996 survey, including banks and thrifts, earned an average base salary of $482,800, 54% higher than the average for leaders of nonfinancial organizations.

The average bonus for a financial services chief executive was $535,300, more than twice the average for all the CEOs of $252,100.

Bank CEOs did not do quite as well as nonbankers in the financial group, but their average salaries exceeded those in all other industries except utilities.

David C. Cates, principal of Towers Perrin and head of its financial services compensation practice in San Francisco, said that relative to other industries, pay for top-level bankers and other financial services executives began a dramatic swing upward about five years ago.

"The world of financial services became much more intense and much more complicated," Mr. Cates said.

Companies are placing a premium on the ability to manage complex mergers and acquisitions, bigger and more diverse business portfolios, sophisticated high-risk products, and specialty lending, Mr. Cates said.

Also, bank stocks, in particular, have performed well over the past few years. Executive pay for bankers has gone up faster than returns on equity, but shareholders seem to be willing to pay, given the industry's strong and consistent performance, the consultant said.

"Companies and their boards are looking for more exceptional executive talent," Mr. Cates added.

J. Lee McCullough, a principal at William M. Mercer Inc. in New York, expressed some surprise at the results of the survey.

"While banking and financial services had been a less-well-compensated industry," Mr. McCullough said, "in recent years, it's caught up and only slightly increased (the compensation) over industrial companies."

Arthur Andersen divided its study of the senior executives' compensation into four industry categories: durables manufacturing, nondurables manufacturing, financial services, and other nonmanufacturing.

Banks, thrifts, diversified financial services companies, and insurers were represented in the financial category.

Among the banking and related companies in the survey were Barnett Banks Inc., Crestar Financial Corp., Signet Banking Corp., SunTrust Banks Inc., UST Corp., Washington Mutual Inc., Morgan Stanley Group Inc., and CUNA Mutual Group, the Credit Union National Association affiliate.

Within the financial services category, the study found chief executives at "diversified financial services" outearned bankers and insurance executives in both salary and annual incentives.

The diversified financial services executives earned an average 1996 base salary of $638,600, compared with $542,300 earned by bankers and thrift executives. Bonuses for diversified financial services chief executives were $981,500, more than three times the annual incentives for top officials at banks and thrifts.

Bank CEOs' base salaries were still higher than those of top executives at every category outside of financial services except utilities, where chief executives averaged $584,900.

Banking incentive pay trailed insurance, utilities, chemical, consumer goods, and communications.

Among other findings:

Average total compensation for chief operating officers at financial services companies was $756,600, more than twice that of their nonfinancial company peers.

The top legal executives at financial services companies earned average total compensation of $284,100, which was higher than the average of all industries, but lower than their peers at nondurable manufacturers.

Chief financial officers at financial services organizations earned $336,300, compared with an average of $219,300, which was higher than any other industry.

Total compensation for top marketing executives was also highest among financial services companies, at $186,900, although the salaries of the other industries were not far behind. The overall average was $163,100.

The survey, which covered 24 senior-level positions from CEO to cash- management executive, also found that the most common company perk among all industries was a cellular phone, followed by a company car.

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