WASHINGTON - Bank regulators, released from government salary caps in 1989, have done well for themselves in the 1990s.
One hundred and nineteen employees of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Reserve System, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Office of Thrift Supervision will take in more than $150,000 in salary and bonuses this year, according to salary data provided by the agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by American Banker.
That's small change in comparison with the salaries of many bankers they regulate - 93 bank executives made more than $1 million in 1994. But these 119 regulators still made more than the $148,400 that a member of President Clinton's cabinet gets.
The highest-paid bank regulator is arguably Robert T. Parry, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, whose salary this year is $253,200.
But Federal Reserve Bank presidents are as much monetary policymakers as bank regulators. The second best-compensated banking agency executive - at between $209,706 and $219,706 in salary and bonuses - is an unnamed officer at one of the Federal Reserve banks - who may or may not be a regulator. If not, the highest-paid full-time regualtor is Stephen F. Steinbrink, senior deputy comptroller for bank supervision operations, with a salary of $191,358.
The Fed refused to provide salary information on specific employees other than its governors and district bank presidents (see accompanying story).
The Fed has long been free to pay its staff as much as it wishes. In 1989, Congress granted this privilege to the FDIC, the Comptroller's office, and the OTS - along with some other financial regulators - with the passage of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act.
The law's pay provisions were meant to prevent a repeat of what happened in the mid-1980s, when the Federal Home Loan Banks, which weren't subject to salary caps, lured scores of bank examiners away from the Comptroller's office and other agencies that were. The 1989 law simply requires the agencies to "seek to maintain comparability regarding compensation and benefits."
The result has been steadily rising salaries. In all, more than 1,292 employees of bank regulatory agencies will take home $100,000 or more this year. That's up from 796 in 1993.
The FDIC is the biggest employer of highly paid executives, with 593 making $100,000 or more this year. The Federal Reserve System is a close second, with 540 employees making $100,000 or more.
The Comptroller's office has 91 employees with base salaries of $100,000 or more. But the agency - unlike the other bank regulators - did not include regional pay differentials in the base salary, so the number of staffers making at least $100,000 is likely to be substantially higher. At the Office of Thrift Supervision, 74 staffers make $100,000 or more.
Bonuses and cash awards are not a big part of bank regulators' pay. They used to be at the FDIC, where bonuses as high as $27,500 were paid to some staffers in 1993. But Chairman Ricki Helfer last year halted bonuses for top executives. That means a pay cut of $13,367 this year for John W. Stone, the agency's executive director for compliance, resolutions and supervision, and slightly smaller decreases for many of his colleagues.
One curious phenomenon brought on by the end of staff salary caps has been that agency heads, whose salaries are set by law, often find themselves supervising people who make far more money than they do (see accompanying graphic).