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.
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).
In these survey results (courtesy of thecorporatecounsel.net), audit firm Deloitte provides data as of April 10 regarding pay-ratio disclosures for 294 companies in the S&P 500. Interestingly, so far at least, not many of the accommodations that the SEC deliberately included in the rule to provide “flexibility” have found favor with companies. For example, the survey showed that only 8% of companies used statistical sampling, a methodology initially suggested in comments by the AFL-CIO and adopted by the SEC in an effort to make the pay-ratio rule more palatable to companies. However, for this first year of reporting, many companies have opted to take a minimalist approach; whether that changes over time as companies become accustomed to the rule and more adventurous in its implementation remains to be seen.
As a general matter, SEC rules do not mandate companies to disclose details about the composition or location of their workforces; Reg S-K requires disclosure of only the number of employees, but no information about them. And the vast majority of companies provide little detail voluntarily. But now, as this article in the WSJ reports, companies are beginning to disclose more information about their workforces overseas, and the impetus for that disclosure is the new pay-ratio rule—all at a time when issues of overseas versus domestic employment are especially fraught.
As I noted in this recent blogpost, a survey conducted by Compensation Advisory Partners LLC of pay-ratio disclosures from 150 companies with a median revenue of $2.1 billion showed that, as of March 9, 2018, the lowest ratio was 1:1 and the highest was 1465:1. What? 1:1? How did that happen? For one explanation, I refer you to this column from Bloomberg’s hilarious Matt Levine, part of which I quote below:
Equilar has just released the results of an anonymous survey of public companies, with 356 respondents, which asked these companies to indicate the CEO-employee pay ratios they anticipated reporting in their 2018 proxy statements. As you would expect, there was a lot of variation among companies based on industry, market cap, revenue, workforce size and geography. In addition, because the rule provided significant flexibility in how companies could identify the median employee and in how they calculate his or her total annual compensation, variations in company methodology likely had a significant impact on the results. These variations in the data underscore the soundness of the SEC’s view, expressed at the time it adopted the pay-ratio rule, that the rule was “designed to allow shareholders to better understand and assess a particular [company’s] compensation practices and pay ratio disclosures rather than to facilitate a comparison of this information from one [company] to another”; “the primary benefit” of the pay-ratio disclosure, according to the SEC, was to provide shareholders with a “company-specific metric” that can be used to evaluate CEO compensation within the context of that company.