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Wall Street Struggles With Executive Pay

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wall Street firms are finding it tough to set up compensation packages that are considered appropriate by the public and adequate to retain top talent.

The most high-profile pay packages, of course, are those of the CEO and other top earners that must be disclosed in regulatory filings.

But while top management may get raises or pay cuts or see more of their compensation weighted in stock, it's hard to get a read on what's going on with the rank and file employees.

For instance, Citigroup (C - Get Report), like most other Wall Street banks, has been trending toward more bonus pay in stock, rather than cash, for traders and investment bankers. The shift has been gradual over the past few years and is based both on guidance from the Obama administration's so-called "pay czar" and a widespread belief that, in the past, banker incentives were not aligned closely enough with risk management and the broader health of the company.

But unlike reports suggesting that there is a consistent level of cash vs. stock for all employees, there is no broad mandate at Citi to pay traders and investment bankers the same way across the board. Some individuals may receive 65% of their pay in cash, while others might get a 50-50 cash-stock split, according to a source familiar with the matter.

"People have been getting paid more in stock, but not everyone is getting the same formula - it's just very different," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Across Wall Street, the norm has moved more toward stock-based compensation over the past few years. The change began in 2009, when the Obama administration hired Kenneth Feinberg to oversee compensation practices at bailed-out companies. He was installed after public furor over bonuses at American International Group (AIG - Get Report).

Feinberg had direct authority over the top paid employees at firms that still owed the government money and famously kept companies like Citi and AIG on a short leash. Citi lost one of its most profitable traders, Andrew Hall, divesting his commodities trading division because of his $100 million payout. AIG CEO Robert Benmosche battled with Feinberg over the restrictions, and ultimately the insurer's general counsel and her deputy left because they felt undercompensated.
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