How do bonus structures affect risk and effort choices? Insight from a lab experiment

Qun Harris, Analise Mercieca, Emma Soane and Misa Tanaka.

The bonus regulations were introduced based on the consensus amongst financial regulators that compensation practices were a contributing factor to the 2008-9 financial crisis. But little is known about how they affect behaviour in practice. So we conducted a lab experiment to examine how different bonus structures affect individuals’ risk and effort choices. We find that restrictions on bonuses, such as a bonus cap, can incentivise people to take less risk. But their risk-mitigating effects weaken or disappear once bonus payment is made conditional on hitting a high performance target. We also find some evidence that bonus cap discourages effort to search for better projects.

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