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Bankers at Goldman Sachs had a tumultuous 2012. The firm cut 900 jobs, promoted the fewest executives to partner in more than a decade and slashed the portion of revenue set aside for compensation to 38 percent from 42 percent a year earlier.

For the man at the very top of Goldman Sachs’ pay pyramid, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, 2012 was his finest year since the boom times of 2007. Blankfein, 58, was awarded $26 million for his work last year, lifting him to No. 1 in the Bloomberg Markets ranking of the best-paid CEOs at North America’s 20 largest financial companies by customer deposits.

John Stumpf, who led Wells Fargo to a record profit of $18.9 billion, ran second, at $19.3 million.

The pay of the 20 chiefs increased an average of 7.7 percent for 2012 compared with a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The tally is based on salaries, stock, bonuses and long-term incentive pay awarded to the CEOs for 2012.

“All of them are being overpaid,” says Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of Value Alliance, a board advisory firm in Westerville, Ohio. “The bank boards still don’t have a good handle on how they should be compensating their executives.”

Bloxham says directors lean too much on share performance and instead should look at how CEOs manage risk, including capital ratios that measure financial strength.

Anton Schutz, president of Mendon Capital Advisors says he’s not surprised that Blankfein was the highest-paid CEO last year.

“He was at the helm during the crisis, so I don’t think he’s being paid just for last year,” says Schutz, whose firm has about $150 million under management, including Goldman Sachs shares. “He’s being paid for bringing Goldman back. And Goldman is back.”

Passage of the Dodd-Frank law in 2010 gave shareholders a nonbinding vote over compensation, spurring them to examine more closely whether CEO pay is in line with results. In a second ranking, Bloomberg compared the awards and performance of each of the 20 chiefs to determine who was the most overcompensated and undercompensated.

Richard Fairbank, CEO of Capital One Financial, was the most overpaid leader. Fairbank, 62, earned $17.5 million while steering a firm whose deposits almost doubled from 2008 to 2012. Blankfein was the second-most overpaid, and Stumpf took the third spot.

After the Wall Street crash of 2008, lawmakers expressed outrage over lavish paychecks given to bankers. As the Troubled Asset Relief Program handed out $419 billion in bailouts, directors initially showed some restraint. Humbled chiefs relinquished their bonuses. Blankfein took home a total of $600,000 in 2008, after hauling in $68.5 million — an investment bank record — for 2007.

“We strongly believe in linking executive pay to performance, and the variability of executive pay at the company over the past few years is a testament to that,” Goldman Sachs spokesman David Wells said in an email.

Last year, New York-based Goldman Sachs posted its first revenue gain in three years as Blankfein navigated an industry slowdown in equities trading and dealmaking. The bank’s own bets through its investing and lending unit, which included stocks, debt and real estate, rose in value, adding to the top line.

Goldman awarded Blankfein a 73.3 percent pay increase in 2012 compared with a year earlier. His compensation of $26 million for last year was $400,000 more than his pay for 2010.

His bank, the fourth largest by assets, posted a 43.4 percent stock return in 2012, also the fourth highest, and a 10.7 percent ROE, placing 11th. The average of these three rankings — 6.3 — was Goldman’s average score. When Blankfein’s No. 1 pay ranking was subtracted from 6.3, the difference — 5.3 — was the second biggest on the list, making him the second- most-overpaid chief.

Blankfein’s package includes a $5 million incentive that will be paid out in three years if the firm achieves certain targets.

The award can change depending on whether the company achieves a 10 percent average return on equity and 7 percent average increase in book value per share.

In setting the CEO’s pay, Goldman Sachs’s compensation committee considered Blankfein’s deep understanding of the strategic aspects of all of the bank’s major businesses, according to a regulatory filing.