Many bankers are paid more than they are worth, the chairman of taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) admitted.
Sir Philip Hampton said there was not enough disparity in pay between the “stars” of investment banking and the average “journeymen players”.
His comments will fuel calls for a crackdown on bankers’ bonuses and come as ministers are in talks with the City about limiting this year’s settlements.
“The star quality, as it were, seems to filter down to people who don’t seem so star quality,” Sir Philip told the BBC for a documentary about the banks to be broadcast on Tuesday night.
“There is, if I can use the expression, a sort of gangmaster cultural phenomenon in this, that you recruit top people who really do make a difference, who really do move markets and get business and are really high achievers.
“But they do tend to associate themselves with people who aren’t such stars, but they want them around and they trust them, sometimes they move with them and there is a team associated with it. And the disparities between the top stars in the team and some of the journeymen players, if you like, is probably not as marked as it should be.”
Sir Philip’s comments are especially pointed as RBS is majority-owned by the state. He took over at RBS in 2009 after it was bailed out by the Treasury.
This year’s total bonus pot for bankers is expected to amount to about £7 billion, despite continued public anger about the role played by the banks in the recession.
The issue is the source of coalition tensions as Liberal Democrats demand a tougher line on the banks than Prime Minister David Cameron appears ready to take.
Mr Cameron has insisted he cannot “hammer” the banks over bonuses because the Government needs their tax revenues and their capacity to lend to businesses.