CASH bonuses for the heads of Australia's biggest companies have fallen to levels not seen since before the financial crisis as profits and share prices have come under pressure.
The annual remuneration report by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors showed average bonus payments of $1.25 million last year, their lowest since 2004. The bonus payments were 20 per cent below the previous year.
The ACSI report, to be released today, shows fixed pay of chief executives in Australia's top 100 listed companies held steady last year.
Overall, the average cash pay for a top 100 CEO declined by 8.9 per cent from 2010 levels to $3.05 million, reflecting the fall in bonus sizes.
The ACSI chief executive, Ann Byrne, said a more mature conversation on executive pay was taking place between boards and investors.
"It is clear that directors began listening to shareholder views on bonus sizes during 2011, and began making the adjustments that have continued into the first part of 2012," she said yesterday.
Even so, some 90 per cent of chief executives still received some form of bonus payment.
The analysis of remuneration for the nation's top 200 companies by ACSI, which advises the nation's biggest superannuation funds, throws new light on how much our corporate leaders are really paid.
It shows a gap between what is reported in company disclosures and what chief executives often end up taking home. Last year BHP Billiton's Marius Kloppers was paid $11.08 million but his realised pay was $17.3 million, the ACSI report shows.
Minimum disclosures often fail to take into account the upside chief executives receive from packages such as deferred bonus shares or cashing in on options - the right to acquire shares in a company often at a heavily discounted price.
The pay cheques of the nation's chief executives have grown at twice the pace of average incomes.