Oliver Ralph, Insurance Correspondent
Standard Life became the latest victim of the shareholder spring with 22 per cent of votes cast going against the investment group’s executive pay report at its annual meeting on Tuesday.
The revolt came despite chief executive Keith Skeoch’s decision last week to voluntarily give up part of his bonus.
Institutional investors have been taking an aggressive stand on executive pay this year. At BP 59 per cent of votes went against the group’s pay report and at Smith & Nephew the figure was 53 per cent.
“The pay climate is tightening,” said Sir Gerry Grimstone, Standard Life chairman. “People are more concerned about quantum now, however well the package is designed.”
Mr Skeoch was paid £3.6m in 2015. What irked some investors was the size of his potential payout under a long-term incentive plan.
When he took the post last August, the package involved a relatively low salary but a long-term bonus plan that could pay out 500 per cent of salary. After speaking to shareholders, Mr Skeoch decided to cut that potential payout to 400 per cent.
“We felt a lower basic salary and higher variable against strict performance targets was a good thing,” said Sir Gerry. “Some people disagreed with us.” There was also concern over the pay for outgoing chief executive David Nish.
Sir Gerry said that objections to the pay report diminished after he held meetings with institutional investors and Mr Skeoch announced his decision.
However, he added that, as the company has a lot of retail shareholders who do not vote, the objections of a small number of institutions can carry more weight than they might do elsewhere.
At the meeting, there were relatively few questions about pay, and some people applauded Mr Skeoch’s decision to give up part of his entitlement.
Sir Gerry admitted that the level of executive pay was a problem for the industry. “Pay is very high across financial services. All chairmen know that. But we are working in a globally competitive marketplace and a lot of the people we employ could move.”
This year’s annual meeting was held in London, rather than Edinburgh, for the first time since demutualisation a decade ago and the company also announced its intention to change its auditor after 23 years. PwC, which has been auditor since 1993, will be replaced by KPMG.
Standard Life also announced that £90m of shares which have been unclaimed since the company demutualised will be given to a charitable foundation to fund research into the so-called savings gap — the difference between what people need to save and what they do save.