Program Provides Update on Dodd-Frank Act Requirements

This month, I participated in an executive compensation program for the Twin Cities Chapter of Financial Executives International (FEI). In “A Perspective on Executive Compensation After Dodd-Frank”, compensation consultant Eric Gonzaga of Grant Thornton LLP and I gave an update on Dodd-Frank Act requirements, including new and upcoming SEC rules, and Eric gave his perspective on the latest trends in performance-based compensation – see our presentation materials here (PDF).

Highlights of the Dodd-Frank Act update included the following:

General Update. I presented the latest version of the ON Securities Cheat Sheet, with updates on the latest compensation and governance regulations. The Cheat Sheet is always available at the right hand side of the home page of this blog. It no longer includes projected dates for proposal and adoption of the SEC rules, because (1) the SEC’s web page that lists upcoming rulemaking activities under Dodd-Frank no longer discloses projected dates and (2) the SEC kept missing/changing the dates anyway.

Say-on-Pay. There is not much new in connection with the non-binding shareholder advisory vote on executive compensation, and the vote on the frequency of the Say-on-Pay vote. The results in 2012 are very similar to those in 2011. Average shareholder support once again is over 90%, but a handful of companies continues to experience negative votes. ISS and other advisory firms continue to have significant influence, approximately 20% of the vote by some estimates.

Advisory Vote Requirements for Smaller Reporting Companies. One of the great things about speaking to the FEI gathering was that it forced me to look back at all of my Dodd-Frank materials from 2012. I realized that we are coming up on a major compliance date for Say-on-Pay and Say When on Pay: smaller reporting companies, after a two-year exemption, will finally become subject to these advisory vote requirements (PDF) for annual meetings starting on January 23, 2013. See the SEC's Small Entity Compliance Guide (PDF) for these rules. Smaller reporting companies have not previously been required to include a Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) section in their proxy statements, and this will not change as a result of Say-on-Pay. The advisory vote will cover whatever is actually disclosed in the proxy statement – generally, just the compensation tables and the description of severance benefits. Some smaller reporting companies already voluntarily include some form of CD&A in their proxy statements, including an explanation of the company’s compensation philosophy and the reasons for the levels and types of the executives’ compensation reported in the tables. Companies that are not making these disclosures should definitely consider adding some version of CD&A in 2013, as it will be helpful in achieving a positive Say-on-Pay vote.

Proxy Disclosure Trends. For larger companies that continue to be subject to Say-on-Pay votes, proxy statement disclosures have been focusing more and more on describing Pay for Performance (P4P). I pointed to the Coca-Cola proxy statement, with its color graphics, and the Exxon Mobil glossy mailing on executive compensation (with companion video) as examples of effective communication. Compensation disclosures are looking more and more like political campaign pieces.

Upcoming Disclosure Requirements. We’re still waiting for these new compensation disclosure requirements from the SEC:

  • Pay vs. performance chart: will require disclosure of executive pay compared to the company’s financial performance (likely measured by Total Shareholder Return).
  • Pay equity disclosure: will require a comparison of median annual compensation of employees vs. that of the CEO, a rule that will likely result in reporting burdens for public companies.

Clawbacks. We’re also waiting for proposed SEC rules on recoupment of compensation by companies listed on stock exchanges – clawbacks. As described in this prior post, the exchanges will be directed to adopt listing standards requiring a clawback policy for listed companies. The policy must require recovery of incentive compensation (including stock options) from current and former officers during the three years prior to a financial restatement, to the extent the compensation was based on erroneous financial data. I continue to believe that the clawback requirements will be the “sleeper” under Dodd-Frank, creating lots of interesting issues for listed public companies.

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