Banking on the little bucks at CVB Financial __»

In all the hue and cry over executive compensation, one refrain is constant: Without good pay packages, companies won’t get the best and brightest men and women for the job.

And heck, you never know what it’ll take to keep them coming in to work. For some, like Sprint CFO Robert Brust, it’s rides on the corporate jet. But for others, maybe the little things matter most.

So when we saw the $150 gift cards that CVB Financial Corp. (CVBF) gave to each of its five top executives in 2009, it caught our attention. CVB — the holding company for $6.7 billion Citizens Business Bank and its roughly 50 California locations — doesn’t offer much of an explanation beyond disclosing the gift cards in footnotes to its latest proxy. We couldn’t help wondering: Might it have something to do with the $130 million of bank bailout funds CVB got from Uncle Sam in December 2008 and ultimately repaid on Sept. 2?

No, as it turns out. CVB’s chief financial officer, Ed Biebrich Jr., was kind enough to give us a call back and fill us in. A few years ago, during a good year, the company distributed $150 gift cards to the staff — something we first footnoted two years ago. As longtime Chairman George A. Borba and his wife made the rounds that holiday season, Biebrich told us, “he got such a warm response to the gift-cards that they have kind of kept it on — it’s become a tradition.”

Because all employees get it, the top dogs do, too, though some have donated their cards to charity, Biebrich said. And since the execs get the cards, the company is careful to disclose them, even though they don’t quite meet the SEC’s test for perks disclosure. Still, Biebrich says, “We dont want to ever be hit on the fact that we missed $150.”

Certainly, we doubt the money itself was much of an issue. CEO Christopher D. Myers collected $1.2 million in cash from his salary and bonus for his labors last year. To put the gift card in perspective, for someone earning that kind of cash, it’s the equivalent of about $6.29 to a typical American household. And, of course, Myers also took home equity awards valued under SEC rules at $2.15 million and options valued at $1.4 million — plus country club dues ($5,580) and a company car ($2,868 of personal use).

The gift cards were a little more significant to other top CVB executives, who earned between $428,733 and $589,842 last year. Think of them as falling in the vicinity of $12.79 to $17.60 apiece.

Image source: buba69 via Flickr