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ABP in ‘fat cat’ pay debate with Aegon

NETHERLANDS – Corporate remuneration packages at Dutch life insurer Aegon are “too complex,” Europe’s biggest pension fund, ABP, has said.

The civil service fund is pleading for the introduction of a benchmark, which publicly-quoted companies in the Netherlands can use to work out what sort of pay packages are ‘reasonable’.

By introducing a benchmark, an ABP spokesman said it hoped to prevent corporate pay packages in the Netherlands ending up in an “upward spiral”.

ABP said there was currently a tendency among Dutch publicly quoted companies, such as ING Group, to compare its remuneration packages with those of its competitors abroad, where pay is usually a lot higher. “That way, the pay of one CEO becomes the pay of the other CEO.”

The comments come amid an investigation by Dutch daily De Volkskrant into remuneration packages in the Netherlands. According to the paper, an increasing number of Dutch companies are paying its managers in stock, making pay packages highly complex.

ABP singled out Aegon as an example of a company with an overly complex corporate remuneration structure. The fund said Aegon’s packages were not in line with the country’s new Tabaksblat corporate governance code.

“Tabaksblat demands pay packages to be clear and understandable. Aegon and Numico’s remuneration packages are not,” the ABP spokesman said.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” a spokesman for Aegon said. He stressed the life insurer did not wish to discuss its remuneration packages with ABP “via the media”.

“We have a very clear pay structure, as laid out in our annual report. It is very transparent, and has been accepted by our shareholders at last year’s annual meeting,” he said.

However, at last year’s AGM, ABP voted against adoption of the general remuneration policy of the Aegon managing board.

In Parliament, the leading CDA party said it was “worried” about the lack of transparency in some remuneration packages, particularly when it came to bosses being paid in stocks. The opposition Socialist Party demanded stock rewards be banned altogether, calling them “perverse”.

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