The two banks had received government support at the time of the financial crisis in 2009; both have still to pay back some of that aid, and both have recently paid their top executives lavish bonuses. KBC's Jan Vanhevel received almost €500,000, Dexia's Pierre Mariani €600,000, not to mention the newly minted "function premium" of €200,000 (see Flanders Today, 13 April).
"We're putting the banks on notice because we as a city administration want to send a powerful signal that we will not stand for unreasonable bonuses for top executives," explained the city's alderman for financial affairs, Christophe Peeters. "When it was going badly for the banks, the government intervened using taxpayers' money, and now that the situation is better, it's straight back to the bonus culture. We're not just saying it's ethically incorrect, we're doing something about it. This is consumer power, and we're speaking the language of money," Peeters said.
The first step is to withdraw money that is held in the two banks in short-term accounts of between one and three months. The council, meanwhile, is said to be considering further steps. Those might include switching longer-term investments to smaller banks or those, like ING, that do not pay out huge bonuses. The city has also asked its legal services to look into the possibility of including an ethical clause in new contracts for banks that handle the city's payroll, which is worth some €250 million a year.
Pictured: Voting with the city's wallet: Christophe Peeters