While the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which was just signed into law, is focused primarily on providing regulatory relief to banks under Dodd-Frank, there are a few provisions of more general interest in Title V, “Encouraging Capital Formation.”
With over 2,000 companies now having reported pay-ratio information for the 2018 proxy season (through May 10), consultant Equilar says it’s time to take a deep dive into the data to see what trends are discernible. Of course, until we have information for several proxy seasons, we really won’t have a very good handle on best practices or even which standards will ultimately take hold. In the meantime, however, Equilar’s analysis of the first year of reporting is a welcome beginning.
Starting in 2018, new rules required disclosure of auditor tenure in audit reports. (See this PubCo post.) And, for some companies, those tenures can stretch over a century. For example, KPMG reported that it has audited GE since 1909. (See this PubCo post.) According to this press release from the American Accounting Association, for “the first 21 companies of the Dow 30 to release their reports this year, the average auditor tenure is 66 years.” But long auditor tenure has its critics and its fans. Some argue that long tenure can adversely affect auditor independence and objectivity, while others contend that long tenure avoids the time loss and distraction of having to “onboard” new auditors, provides deep institutional knowledge—leading to higher audit quality—and offers cost savings resulting from that familiarity. However, a couple of recent academic studies call those suggested benefits into question. The press release cited above and this article in CFO.com report on new academic research that concludes that, among the Big 4 at least, the longer the tenure, the greater the fee, notwithstanding the reduction in effort required of the auditor over time. And this press release from the American Accounting Association reports on another academic study that, contrary to popular assumptions, found a positive correlation between relatively short audit tenure and the speed of discovery of financial misreporting. Will these studies renew calls for mandatory auditor rotation?
Having a board evaluation is a regular event for most public companies. But is it a productive practice or just another corporate governance kabuki—a perfunctory, check-the-box exercise with no real impact? “Board Performance Evaluations that Add Value,” posted on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, suggests that board evaluations can range from “counterproductive exercises, which exacerbate already fractious and poorly performing boards, to truly transformational change leading to superior governance and organisational outcomes.” But what leads to a superior outcome? The authors suggest that positive outcomes are more likely when boards understand the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different types of board reviews, and properly plan and implement the recommendations resulting from the board’s evaluation. Moreover, the authors contend that the evaluation process itself offers benefits as “an effective team-building, ethics-shaping activity. [The authors’] observation is that boards often neglect the process of engagement when undertaking evaluations; unfortunately, boards that fail to engage their members are missing a major opportunity for developing a shared set of board norms and inculcating a positive board and organizational culture. In short, the process is as important as the content.”
In this snapshot review by Willis Towers Watson of U.S. say-on-pay and other compensation-related votes, WTW found that average support for say on pay remained high at 91%. In addition, where ISS identified “high” levels of concern leading to negative recommendations on say on pay, 84% related to pay-for-performance concerns (compared to 75% in 2017).
According to a new report from the EY Center for Board Matters, 54% of the 2017 class of directors of Fortune 100 companies served in non-CEO roles and 40% were female. More than half of the Fortune 100 added at least one independent director, slightly less than in 2016, but together, over the two-year period, over 80% of the Fortune 100 added at least one independent director. The result was that, taking director exits into account, “nearly all of the companies experienced some type of change in board composition during this period.” The EY Center’s associate director told the WSJ that the report showed “‘an increase in board diversity along the different dimensions of gender, age, ethnicity and in some cases socioeconomic background,’…. That means demand is growing for people who can offer ‘a more nuanced, multidimensional look’ at what is… happening with regard to consumer demographics, disruptive technology and workforce management, among other areas, she said. ‘The consensus is the best way to provide for boards to be able to see around corners, to ask the right critical questions, to get to the best answer possible, is to have a board that has the right mix of skills, expertise, background and perspective….There’s more openness to considering more and different perspectives.’”
For quite a while, the CDIs related to the proxy rules and proxy statements have been a bit of a hodge-podge of different sources and supplements. There were even interpretations extant from the ancient Telephone Interpretations Manual—you may even have a mimeograph copy of that in your office somewhere. Now, Corp Fin has undertaken to update and harmonize some of those proxy-related interpretations, specifically the basic Interpretations Manual and its March 1999 Supplement. The rest of the supplements remain undisturbed for the moment; however, Corp Fin advises that it is in the process of updating them all.