Slow and steady has its good points, wouldn't you agree? Just take a look at trends in CFO compensation. Overall pay increased at a respectable pace in 2011 as gains in long-term incentives offset decreases in short-term cash bonuses. While that hardly compares with the surge in compensation CFOs saw in 2010, it's nothing to sneer at, either. It's also the look of things to come. The same modest increases likely will be the rule in 2012 as compensation committees set more realistic targets tied to performance. "We're seeing a return to normalcy," says Todd Lippincott, leader of the executive compensation consulting business for the Americas at Towers Watson, a New York-based human resources and benefits consulting firm. Recent data back that contention.

A study of the 2011 compensation of 50 Fortune 500 CFOs commissioned by Treasury & Risk and conducted by Equilar, a Redwood Shores, Calif., executive compensation research firm, found median total compensation in 2011 increased 9%, to $5.1 million from the year before. In 2010, Equilar's survey of a somewhat different group of Fortune 500 CFOs showed a 21.4% rise. In 2011, for example, total compensation for IBM CFO Mark Loughridge grew 7%, to $6.4 million. EMC's David Goulden's pay increased 3% to $5.1 million.

These results reflect two counter-balancing trends: smaller cash bonuses and larger stock awards. Median annual bonuses, which include cash payouts of incentive plans, dropped 13%, to $732,292, according to Equilar. The reason: With the economy less rocky and the outlook for corporate performance improved, companies set substantially more aggressive goals than the year before. "Companies felt increasingly secure about the direction of the economy and were able to set more realistic targets, resulting in lower payouts in many instances," says Aaron Boyd, research manager at Equilar.

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