Given the pervasiveness of COVID-19, one issue that boards have had to face is what to do if the CEO or other executive critical to business continuity is suddenly taken ill or required to self-isolate because of exposure to the virus. What about succession planning? How should the absence be communicated? A couple of recent pieces from prominent consultants provide some guidance on these issues.
ISS now has established a COVID-19 resource center, which offers, among other things, a searchable list of companies that are holding virtual meetings this proxy season. As of April 15, the tally for virtual meetings in the U.S. held or to be held this proxy season is 1,015; according to ISS, that number was 286 for all of calendar 2019. In addition, 83 meetings have so far been cancelled or postponed.
Recently, both CFO Research and PwC conducted surveys of finance executives to elicit information about how they were navigating the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, their responses indicated concerns regarding the effect on revenues of a compelled decline in economic activity—projections from The Conference Board indicate a sharp contraction in the U.S. economy in 2020 between 3.6% and 7.4%—as well as liquidity pressures. The results may provide some insights for purposes of disclosure and financial reporting. Remarkably, perhaps, there was a hint of optimism about a potential recovery (or were they just putting on happy faces)?
In this article, the executive director of the ESG Center and the managing director, ESG, of The Conference Board identify seven key areas for board focus in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, essentially an update, given today’s practices and today’s crisis, of the Board’s 2009 report in the wake of the financial crisis. At the end of the day, while the pandemic has led to “increased responsibility, scrutiny, and uncertainty” for boards, the authors advocate that boards address those demands with “increased humanity. This is a time for board members to acknowledge their own abilities and limitations, as well as those of others; to act with increased understanding, compassion, and respect toward each other; and to call upon the untapped reserves of resilience and resourcefulness that abide in us all.”
Like ISS (see this PubCo post), proxy advisor Glass Lewis has also revisited the application of its policies to take into account the impact of COVID-19—having conducted, in its words, “scenario planning in order to consider how this will impact governance and broader ESG issues in the present and future.” Glass Lewis advises that it expects, currently and probably through 2021, “all governance issues and most proposal types to be impacted by the pandemic,” including balance-sheet and executive comp issues, on which Glass Lewis expresses some rather strong opinions. Relying on the flexibility inherent in its “contextual approach,” Glass Lewis plans to exercise its “existing discretion and pragmatism” in connection with voting on any affected proposals.
CNBC has posted an unofficial transcript of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s recent interview with SEC Chair Jay Clayton. While much of the interview covers ground familiar from the last couple of days regarding forward-looking disclosure, particularly the joint statement that Clayton released with Corp Fin Director Bill Hinman (see this PubCo post), Clayton’s interview does provide some helpful color.
The Corp Fin staff is once again addressing logistical difficulties that have cropped up in light of COVID-19—this time it’s the submission of Forms 144 in paper. In this statement, the staff is providing temporary relief with regard to paper Forms 144 submitted during the period from April 10 through June 30, 2020. In the statement, the staff advises that it will not recommend enforcement action if, in lieu of mailing or delivering paper Forms 144 under Rules 101(b)(4) or 101(c)(6) of Reg S-T, the filer (or submitter) attaches a complete Form 144 as a PDF attachment to an email sent to PaperForms144@SEC.gov.