In lieu of cash, Wells Fargo's top four executives are getting retention bonuses, earned if they stick around for three years and the bank meets certain performance goals.
Wells Fargo recently repaid $25 billion in taxpayer bailout funds granted under the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program. Repaying the money freed the bank of certain government restrictions on executive pay.
A bank spokesman defended the bonuses as necessary to keep the executives, who had led the bank through a fraught merger with Wachovia, a bank riddled with problematic loans and overseen three quarters of record profits in 2009.
Of course, it's easy for banks to post record profits right now, since they can borrow money from the Federal Reserve at near-zero interest rates and invest it risk-free in Treasuries.
You don't need a fancy MBA to figure out that's a good deal. Nor do you need $25 million to get someone to stick around and watch the money roll in.
Here's a question Wells Fargo shareholders should ask: How much will they have to pay executives when banking gets tricky again?