More than a quarter of Barclays shareholders look set to vote against the British bank's controversial pay plan for bosses on Friday and Credit Suisse is also bracing for a backlash as investors seek a greater share of profits.
Annual shareholder meetings at both banks could be heated affairs as investors make it clear that staff and executives are getting too big a share of the spoils at the expense of shareholders.
Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius will apologize for badly communicating the bank's pay strategy and promise higher dividends in future, as he braces for between a quarter and a third of voters to go against the remuneration resolution.
The row has drawn in politicians and business leaders.
"This is a good example of a company which recently ... has been paying three times as much in bonuses as it was in dividends to its own shareholders and it's a good example of shareholders standing up and saying no, this is not acceptable," UK Business Secretary Vince Cable told ITV News.
Barclays paid out 660 million pounds ($1.1 billion) in dividends last year, while its bonus pot for investment bank staff was 1.5 billion pounds, and across the bank it paid 2.5 billion in "performance costs."
Katja Hall, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, said the link between executive pay at UK firms and performance "needs to be made more transparent and in some cases strengthened".
Decent results from both Barclays and Credit Suisse this week could quell any rebellion, although many of the votes on the non-binding issue were made early in the week.
The Association of British Insurers and advisory group Pirc have opposed the pay for Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond, who took home 17 million pounds last year despite describing profitability as "unacceptable".
The bank last week tweaked his award after investors voiced their anger in meetings with Agius, although many critics said it had not done enough.
Unhappy investors have warned British banks to brace for a sell-off in their shares unless there is real action to stamp out excessive pay. Discontent is also clear among shareholders elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, with the issue becoming a lightning rod for investors dissatisfied with the paltry returns they are getting.
Ethos, an influential group that makes recommendations to Swiss pension funds, said investors should vote against the pay plans at Credit Suisse, complaining that its bonus policy is still too high and opaque.
Shareholders in U.S. bank Citigroup surprisingly voted down its executive pay plan last week, while protesters at Wells Fargo's AGM turned up with a huge inflated rat, pockets stuffed with dollar bills.
($1 = 0.6178 British pounds) (Reporting by Matt Scuffham and Steve Slater in London and Katharina Bart in Zurich; Editing by Mark Potter)