Excessive leverage and bankers' pay: Governance and financial stability costs of a symbiotic relationship

Emilios Avgouleas, Jay Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Debt has traditionally been viewed as an effective corporate governance tool. However, high leverage levels can lead to rapid expansion of the size of bank assets maximizing, in the short-to medium term, banks' return on equity. In the absence of regulatory controls on leverage, all it takes to assume excessive risks, even for benign bankers, is to imitate competitors' business strategies. This form of herding can be motivated by compensation considerations or by career concerns. However,while bankers' compensation has been a major factor behind bank short-termism, excessive leverage creates serious governance/agency costs even in the absence of compensation incentives. As a result, contemporary reforms should prioritize well-calibrated leverage ratios over regulation of private compensation contracts, notwithstanding some conspicuous political gains attached to the latter. A reasonably protective leverage ratio can prove an effective measure in containing rent seeking and smoothing up the leverage cycle to improve bank governance, prevent deep recessions, and safeguard financial stability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-46
Number of pages47
JournalColumbia Journal of European Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2014


  • bank leverage
  • bankers' pay
  • agency costs
  • leverage ratios
  • bank capital


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