As banks have become more complex businesses through consolidation or by adding capabilities such as investment banking, demand for choice top-level executives has pushed compensation packages to new heights.

In 1999 cash salaries and bonuses soared for many of the 25 highest-paid bankers, the top four getting about $10 million even before stock options, according to a study by American Banker. For the top 25 executives, the average gain in salary and bonus was 55.26%.

The two highest-paid bankers on the list - John B. McCoy from Bank One Corp. and Walter V. Shipley from Chase Manhattan Corp. - retired last year. No. 3 in salary and bonus, Frank N. Newman, resigned from Bankers Trust Corp. last June after selling the company to Deutsche Bank.

It may be customary to pay retiring executives more, but incoming talent can be pricey as well. Chicago-based Bank One paid handsomely to land former Citigroup executive James Dimon as chairman and CEO. It said this week that it will pay Mr. Dimon $1 million a year for five years and a $2.5 million bonus this year, along with an undetermined future bonus and access to hefty stock options.

Salary deals for top executives like Mr. Dimon are becoming more and more common in the financial services industry, experts say.

"In the past big commercial banks historically were paying at somewhat of a discount compared to some other financial institutions like investment banks," said Alan Johnson, a compensation expert at Johnson Associates in New York.

"But that's no longer true," Mr. Johnson said. "The big banks now pay as well as anybody."

The reason, he and others point out, is that the banking business has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and, thus, top-quality executives are in greater demand.

"These are probably some of the toughest management jobs in the financial services world," Mr. Johnson said. Because banks offer so many more services and have grown to companies of enormous size, top management posts more expertise, he noted. "I think the job (of CEO) has gotten a lot more difficult."

With the market putting more pressure than ever on banks and other companies to perform, companies know that filling upper-level posts will naturally cost more money, said Diane Posnak, a partner with Pearl Meyer & Partners, an executive placement firm.

"It's smart to have the high pay packages for the top people, because so much is riding on performance," Ms. Posnak said. "There's a sense that you really have to track the right talent."

Paying top money to win that kind of talent may translate well to the bottom line, a study released Wednesday by Andersen Consulting suggests.

Top banking executives and representatives from other industries interviewed for the study agreed with its findings, said Jill Posnick, a spokeswoman for the consulting firm.

The study concluded that companies that invest top dollar for top professionals have the potential to lift revenues by up to $40 million for a typical $1 billion unit.

Senior managers haven't always fetched this kind of money.

Lee Pomeroy of the executive search firm Egon Zehnder International said: "The whole bar has been moved up in the last few years. Bonuses were once roughly equal to or just less than salaries. All of the sudden those same numbers, instead of being a couple of million dollars in equity value," went to $10 million, $15 million, and $20 million.


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