Conversations about pay in the banking industry typically focus on whether executives at the top are paid too much or workers at the bottom are paid too little.
But new data available as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act is drawing rare attention to the compensation of employees in the middle. In what will become an annual exercise, publicly traded U.S. companies are now required to disclose annually the median pay of their employees.
This year’s disclosures are shedding new light on the banking industry’s ability to compete against other sectors in the battle for employees who have strong technology skills — an issue that is particularly acute at smaller institutions. They are also spotlighting the question of whether the banking sector is evolving quickly enough in response to the digital revolution.
“Because the work is changing, the workforce is going to change,” said Robert Dicks, an industry consultant at Deloitte.
One early finding from the data is that median compensation at U.S. banks varies widely.
Analysts at Autonomous Research compiled the median pay at more than 30 banking institutions, a group that includes megabanks, small regional banks, and those in between. Many other banks have yet to report the data.
Wall Street mainstay Goldman Sachs reported the highest median pay at $135,165 per year. Prosperity Bancshares in Houston was at the bottom of the list, reporting that its median worker gets paid $33,897.
These sorts of comparisons require some big caveats. The gap in median pay is partially the result of differences in how banks calculated the numbers. It also reflects wide geographic variations in the cost of living.
Differences in business models are another major factor. It should not be a surprise that banks with large branch networks tend to pay their median workers less than firms like Ally Financial, which does not employ tellers, and reports median pay of $105,515.
Still, the data reveals some notable patterns. Banks with at least $20 billion of assets reported median pay of $64,684 on average, according to an analysis by the compensation firm Main Data Group, compared with just $45,347 for banks with less than $2.5 billion of assets.
Small banks typically outsource to vendors a lot of work that requires a high level of technical sophistication and commands good pay, which probably accounts for some of the disparity. But it is also true that small banks typically have a harder time attracting top talent than their larger peers do.
Sankar Krishnan, an executive vice president at the tech consulting firm Capgemini, said that big banks and some of the large regional banks are able to compete for highly sought-after talent. But he added: “When you go one notch down, they are going to have a very tough time to attract the very best.”
The median pay data that has been reported so far also indicates that the banking industry pays its rank-and-file employees substantially less than some of the sectors that are vying for the same talent.
Autonomous Research used the disclosures by individual companies to calculate industry-wide medians. Among banks that have disclosed the data, those in the middle of the pack report median employee pay of around $60,000.
In the technology industry, that number is roughly $78,000. In the telecommunications, real estate and energy sectors, it is even higher.
The wide gap in median pay suggests that many banks will struggle to attract the kind of talent they will need to thrive in the digital economy. And compensation is not the only area where banks are at a disadvantage versus tech companies, according to experts.
They point to workplace culture as another factor that puts banks at a disadvantage in the competition for younger employees. In some cases, banks are hurt by the fact that they are headquartered in cities that bear little resemblance to Silicon Valley.
“From my experience, tech talent wants to be in hubs. They want to be with like-minded people,” said Bhushan Sethi, a partner in the financial services practice at the consulting firm PwC.
Some banks are taking aggressive steps to overcome their disadvantages. That may mean establishing a new satellite office in a tech-friendly city with an informal dress code. Or it can mean throwing out their old playbooks and paying higher salaries.
Banks are generally self-aware about the challenges they face, said Jason Hanold, the CEO of Hanold Associates, an executive search firm in Evanston, Ill. “And so they’re evolving their thinking around compensation,” he said.
In recent years, small banks have started to loosen their purse strings in an effort to attract skilled employees, according to an annual survey conducted by the consulting firm Crowe Horwath.
Back in 2012, the firm found that approximately 10% of the small banks surveyed were willing to pay above-market rates in order to attract talent. By last year, that number had risen to about 25%.
Across the entire industry, median pay figures to rise in future years, as banks continue to eliminate lower-skill, lower-paying jobs, and to hire more folks with highly coveted technology skills.
“I think because of the nature of those jobs,” said Terence Roche, a partner at the bank consulting firm Cornerstone Advisors, “you will have fewer people making more money.”
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Corrected April 1, 2018 at 1:43PM: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the firm that did an analysis of median pay at banks by asset size.