Thrivent Financial and Ameriprise Financial are far more alike than they are different, both big financial services firms with headquarters just a block from each other in downtown Minneapolis.
Both manage money and sell financial products like annuities through a network of representatives.
There are big differences, of course. Thrivent is organized for the benefit of its members. Ameriprise’s stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange. But there’s maybe no difference quite as striking as this:
The top job at Ameriprise pays 25 times more than the top job at Thrivent.
A well-intentioned communications staff member at Ameriprise pointed out that the company’s large size really distorts such comparison, as Ameriprise is ranked 263 on the latest Fortune 500 list.
Yes, but Thrivent is ranked at 325, not that far down.
“Oh,” he said.
Ameriprise did not make a board member available to comment, as the spokesman pointed out that its proxy statement issued to shareholders contains pages of explanation about how it compensates company officers.
But he wanted to make sure to explain just how complicated Ameriprise is as a global business. By measures such as assets under management, it’s also a lot bigger than Thrivent, too.
But Thrivent board Chairman Dick Moeller used similar language to discuss the complexity of his company and how “blessed” the company is to have someone with the skills required to effectively run it.
Maybe the most interesting aspect is that both organizations approach the question of how much to pay the same way. Ameriprise benchmarks pay and performance with other companies and hires a compensation consultant to help. Turns out, Thrivent does pretty much the same thing. Both companies say salary is based on fairness — rewarding leaders for the value they bring to the organization and for achieving financial and strategic goals.
And, Moeller said, Thrivent CEO Brad Hewitt certainly appears pleased with his deal.
“Brad is a real humble, servant leader who cares a lot more about the mission of Thrivent than he does his personal comp,” Moeller said.
How Ameriprise CEO Jim Cracchiolo views his total compensation isn’t known. Given the numbers, it would be bad form to complain.
His 2013 total was calculated by the Star Tribune at just over $92 million, including nearly $11 million in bonus pay and realized stock-option gains of $76.4 million.
The company’s disclosures on pay are about as clear and complete as such things get. In addition to what’s required, Ameriprise presents its own calculation of what its officers actually make. In this table, Cracchiolo earned total direct compensation of $20.7 million for 2013 and between $15 million and $16 million for each of the previous two years.
The reason the 2013 compensation figure got to $92 million is the strong performance of the stock, which had made stock options granted in prior years far more valuable.
As the company reported in its proxy, the five-year total return for Ameriprise common stock was 449 percent, and since becoming an independent, publicly traded company in 2005, the stock of Ameriprise has delivered the second-highest total return in Standard & Poor’s index of 81 financial companies.
Making a lot of money on options granted in the past also doesn’t mean that Cracchiolo is ineligible for new grants. The compensation committee of the board of directors “believes that reducing or limiting current stock option grants, restricted stock awards or other forms of compensation because of prior gains realized by an executive officer would unfairly penalize the officer for high past performance and reduce the motivation for continued high achievement.”
To keep Cracchiolo properly motivated, the company made an additional grant in 2013, and he has almost certainly gotten another one already in 2014, based on the schedule of grants that the company publishes on its website.
Thrivent can’t offer stock options, of course, as a fraternal benefit organization. But Thrivent still wants its CEO to have a compensation plan that includes pay tied to long-term performance. Thrivent provided Hewitt’s compensation for 2012 with assurances that when available, 2013’s numbers will look pretty similar.
In 2012 he earned a base salary of just over $808,000. His bonus and other incentive compensation was $1.54 million. The part that would be analogous to an equity-based award, presented under the heading of retirement and deferred compensation, was $1.16 million.
Moeller, Thrivent’s chairman, described the process that determined that amount, and it looks a lot like what Ameriprise does.
And if Cracchiolo did well because Ameriprise is performing well, the same argument could be made at Thrivent. Revenue in 2013 of $8.5 billion was a record, and what could best be called operating income was up 30 percent.
To figure out what the market pays, Thrivent uses data from a list of big nonprofits like the Mayo and a list of 29 comparable financial services companies that includes mutual insurance companies as well as investor-owned financial services companies. Genworth Financial, Hartford Financial, MetLife and Principal Financial are among the firms on Thrivent’s list that are also on list that Ameriprise uses.
Moeller said Thrivent isn’t going to meet the market for executive pay at big public companies. Instead, it seeks to recruit leaders who are motivated by being part of what Moeller called “a mission-driven, not-for-profit business helping our members be wise with their money, lead generous lives and work to serve the greater community.”
Since he joined the board in 2005, he can’t think of an executive who left just to be paid more money.
But just like at other companies, Moeller described a tension between the board of directors and the management team over compensation — what he called “a balancing act.”
“I’m sure if you asked Brad,” he said, “He would say, ‘You don’t need to pay me any more money, and I don’t need a raise every year.’ ”