washingtonpost.com
Perks Still in Play But Sometimes Are Less Lavish

By Simone Baribeau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 28, 2008

Financial services companies were largely rolling back executive fringe benefits in 2007. But that doesn't mean they were insignificant.

For example, before leaving with a cash severance payment of $3.2 million, Sallie Mae chief executive Thomas J. Fitzpatrick received medical, housing and auto benefits of almost $30,000 last year. Fannie Mae chief executive Daniel H. Mudd got almost $150,000 in fringe benefits, 90 percent related to life and liability insurance coverage and matches for charitable contributions in 2007. His other perks included financial counseling services, an executive health program and dining services.

But by the end of 2007, Fannie Mae started requiring executives to reimburse the company for personal use of company cars and country club memberships. It also stopped paying for personal financial counseling. And earlier this year, Sallie Mae told executives that their perks would be reduced as part of its business restructuring.

"If you take a look at the ugly kind of losses taking place, investors don't want to see executives getting country club memberships, while their stock is going down in value," said Steven Hall, managing director at executive compensation consulting firm Steven Hall & Partners.

Compared with other industries, benefits in the financial services sector have historically been modest, mostly going toward life insurance, retirement accounts and matches for charitable contributions.

"Financial services has generally been on the skinny side on benefits and perquisites," Hall said. "They have a philosophy that says, 'We're going to pay you a lot of money and you go figure out what to do with the money.' "

Companies said the benefits help attract talent, retain high-caliber executives and improve productivity. And so perks like drivers, medical care and financial planning advice remain.

This is a look at some of the compensation besides salary, bonuses and stock awards that Fannie Mae, Capital One, Freddie Mac, Allied Capital and Sallie Mae disclosed in their annual proxy statements. Relatively inexpensive benefits do not have to be disclosed.

Financial Planning Advice

Even financial magnates get help with their personal financial affairs.

Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae and Capital One all offered executives financial counseling in 2007. At least four top Capital One executives received $12,000 in financial planning services in the first nine months of the year, before the company canceled the program. (Chief executive Richard D. Fairbank's contract is renegotiated earlier than other executives', so he got no planning services in 2007.) And before getting pushed out of Sallie Mae in May 2007, Fitzpatrick got $5,550 worth of financial counseling. Sallie Mae cut the program earlier this year.

Executive compensation experts said those programs -- until recently the fastest-growing fringe benefit -- make good business sense. Executives' time may be better spent working than grappling with personal financial decisions. Advisers "can explain the company's programs to the executive, explain what the executive is entitled to and how to get the maximum benefit out of it," Hall said.

Relocation

The best new executives aren't always local. So companies often pay for relocation costs, which typically include travel, shipping and any losses on their home sale.

"You should make your relocation policy such that it makes people neutral. They shouldn't be better off, but they shouldn't be worse off either," said Jannice Koors, a managing director at compensation consulting firm Pearl Meyer & Partners. "A company should be able to relocate an executive without the executive having to pay a penalty for it."

For example, Freddie Mac gave Anthony Piszel, who joined as chief financial officer in November 2006, almost $500,000 in relocation expenses in 2006 and 2007. His colleague, executive vice president of operations and technology Mike Perlman, had a much cheaper move, setting the company back $45,572.

Executive Physical Exams

A healthy executive is a productive executive, compensation experts said. "If you're in better shape, you will work harder and you will work longer," Koors said.

Sallie Mae, like other companies its size, pays for each of its leaders' "annual executive physical exam." The exam "bundles the same tests and procedures available to any employee into a single day for efficiency and convenience," company spokeswoman Martha Holler said in a statement.

When the exam uncovered the need for more medical care, Sallie Mae paid its executives' insurance premiums in 2007 as well. But that benefit was cut this year.

Car and Driver

Sallie Mae spent close to $10,000 on lease payments, insurance, taxes and maintenance on Fitzpatrick's car in the almost five months he was on the job. Capital One general counsel John Finneran Jr. received more than $20,000 in personal expenses related to the company car. Chief executive Richard D. Fairbank was no longer given personal use of the company automobile in 2007, but he charged more than $44,000 in expenses for his personal driver. The company labeled this a security expense, since the driver was also tasked with ensuring Fairbank's safety.

Car benefits have been on the decline, Hall said, but drivers -- often considered necessary for security -- are still common for chief executives.

Family and Friends

It's not just executives who eat and travel on the company dime. Often, their spouses do, too.

Freddie Mac, for instance, pays business-related travel and dining expenses for the spouses of top executives. And Allied Capital chief executive William Walton's family members or guests racked up $23,994 in travel costs.

Dale Lynch, executive vice president of capital markets at Allied Capital, said that for a $5 billion company, travel costs are low.

"When you're a CEO, your wife has to be with you, that kind of stuff happens, you track it, you comply with all the IRS requirements," Lynch said. "That's part of being an employee at a company where you're not at a 9-to-5 job."

So long as the expense ties back to business and is reasonable, these types of perks help keep company executives productive, said Brent Longnecker, chairman of executive compensation firm Longnecker & Associates.

Legal Fees

Negotiating a new chief executive contract is no cheap exercise. Freddie Mac paid $100,000 in legal fees for chairman and chief executive Richard F. Syron to renegotiate his contract last year. He got an 18 percent raise and a $1.25 million extension bonus.

And should Fannie Mae chief executive Daniel H. Mudd want a lawyer to help him renegotiate, amend or discuss his contract (which ends in December 2009), Fannie will foot that bill as well.

It's common for companies to foot the legal bill for executives during employment negotiations. "Many companies agree that the executives should be represented legally, and as a result they should be willing to pay for counsel for the executive," Hall said. "It's kind of like loading the gun against yourself."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company