Tag: Audit committee


Governance Challenges Arising From “Corporate Cooperation” Concepts

Michael W. Peregrine is a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Peregrine, with assistance from Joshua T. Buchman and Kelsey J. Leingang; the views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of McDermott Will & Emery LLP or its clients.

The current Department of Justice emphasis on “corporate cooperation” in the context of government investigations creates the potential for significant tension to arise between governance and executive leadership, which potential should be recognized and addressed proactively by the board.

The DOJ Criminal Division has, with notable frequency this spring, sought to increase public transparency as to the process it applies when making a decision with respect to corporate prosecutions. A principal goal of DOJ’s public effort is to clarify the parameters it considers in deciding how to proceed when made aware of alleged corporate wrongdoing. This goal includes making the value of cooperation, and the consequences of noncooperation, more clearly apparent to corporations and their advisors. [1]

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Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update

Rick E. Hansen is Assistant Corporate Secretary and Managing Counsel, Corporate Governance, at Chevron Corporation.

Board audit committee agendas continue to evolve as companies are faced with a rapidly-changing global business landscape, the proliferation of standards and regulations, increased stakeholder scrutiny, and a heightened enforcement environment. In this post, I summarize current issues of interest for audit committees.

The Audit Committee And Oversight

During her remarks at the Stanford Directors’ College in June 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White observed that “audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting.” [1] Since then, various Commissioners of the SEC and its Staff have reinforced this message by reminding companies of the audit committee’s duties under federal securities laws to:

  • oversee the quality and integrity of the company’s financial reporting process, including the company’s relationship with the outside auditor;
  • oversee the company’s confidential and anonymous whistleblower complaint policies and procedures relating to accounting and auditing matters; and
  • report annually to stockholders on the performance of these duties.

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Three Practical Steps to Oversee Enterprise Risk Management

The following post comes to us from Latham & Watkins LLP, and is based on a Latham publication by Scott Hodgkins, Steven B. Stokdyk, and Joel H. Trotter.

Oversight of enterprise risk management, or ERM, continues to challenge boards and occupy a prominent place on the governance agenda. Effective ERM seeks to balance risk and opportunity while enhancing value-creation opportunities. Proxy advisors may recommend “against” or “withhold” votes against directors of companies that experience a material failure of risk oversight.

A leading ERM framework, developed by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) of the Treadway Commission, directs boards to:

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What’s New in 2015: Cybersecurity, Financial Reporting and Disclosure Challenges

The following publication comes to us from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and is based on a Weil alert; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As calendar-year reporting companies close the books on fiscal 2014, begin to tackle their annual reports on Form 10-K and think ahead to reporting for the first quarter of 2015, a number of issues warrant particularly close board and management attention. In highlighting these key issues, we include guidance gleaned from the late Fall 2014 programs during which members of the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators delivered important messages for companies and their outside auditors to consider. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions on “what to do now.”

While there are no major changes in the financial reporting and disclosure rules and standards applicable to the 2014 Form 10-K, companies can expect heightened scrutiny from regulators, and heightened professional skepticism from outside auditors, regarding compliance with existing rules and standards. Companies can also expect shareholders to have heightened expectations of transparency fostered by notable 2014 events such as major corporate cyber-attacks. Looking forward into 2015, companies will need to prepare for a number of significant changes, including a new auditing standard for related party transactions, a new revenue recognition standard and, for the many companies that have deferred its adoption, a new framework for evaluating internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). The role of the audit committee in helping the company meet these challenges is undiminished—and perhaps, in regulators’ eyes, more important than ever.

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Key Considerations for Board and Audit Committee Members

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC’s 2014-2015 Key considerations for board and audit committee members report.

The changing business landscape, technological advances, and significant risks such as cybersecurity continue to present opportunities and challenges for companies today. Directors will want to take a fresh and critical look at their boardroom agenda to ensure it is meeting today’s needs.

PwC’s 2014-2015 edition of Key considerations for board and audit committee members, an annual publication from PwC’s Center for Board Governance, can help enhance the quality of board and management discussions in the coming year.

Here are some highlights:

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The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting in Staggered and Non-Staggered Boards

The following post comes to us from Ronen Gal-Or and Udi Hoitash, both of the Department of Accounting at Northeastern University, and Rani Hoitash of the Department of Accountancy at Bentley University. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about staggered boards includes: How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting in Staggered and Non-Staggered Boards: The Case of Audit Committee Elections, which was recently made available on SSRN, we study the efficacy of audit committee member elections in staggered and non-staggered boards.

Voting in director elections and auditor ratifications is a primary mechanism shareholders can use to voice their opinion. Past research shows that shareholders cast votes against directors that exhibit poor performance, and these votes, in turn, are associated with subsequent board reaction. However, because a significant number of U.S. public companies have staggered boards, not all directors are up for election every year. Therefore, the efficacy of shareholder votes may not be uniform. Under the staggered board voting regime, shareholders and proxy advising firms can typically voice their opinion on any given director only once every three years. This election structure may increase the likelihood that directors who are not up for election following poor performance will be insulated from the scrutiny of shareholders and proxy advisors. In turn, this may influence the accountability of staggered directors and the overall efficacy of shareholder votes.

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Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young, and is based on an Ernst & Young study by Allie M. Rutherford and Ruby Sharma. The complete publication is available here.

The 2014 proxy season saw significant growth in audit committee transparency. Continuing the trend of the past several years, an increased number of Fortune 100 companies are going beyond the minimum disclosures required.

These disclosures are also more robust—providing valuable perspectives on the activities of audit committees, including their oversight of external auditors.

The recent movement toward increased audit committee transparency has been encouraged by a variety of factors and entities. In addition to the ongoing disclosure effectiveness review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving a holistic review of the US corporate disclosure regime, audit committee disclosures are receiving significant attention from a variety of stakeholders. These stakeholders include US and non-US regulators, investors, and policy organizations.

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Pre-Flight Checklist: 2014 Update

Eric Geringswald is Director of CSC® Publishing at Corporation Service Company. This post is an excerpt from the 2014 Edition of The Directors’ Handbook, by Thomas J. Dougherty of Skadden, Arps.

In this year’s Foreword, Dougherty differentiates the need for directors to focus on their core mission of informed oversight and vigilance rather than merely reacting to the constant influx of “daily corporate governance commentary,” and explores other front-burner issues, such as the marked increase in SEC enforcement actions and other recent SEC initiatives; the continuing trend of class action suits as de facto settlement instruments; proxy advisory firm priorities for directors; and new guidance from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that recommends that audit committee directors discuss internal auditing deficiencies with their auditors.

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A Few Things Directors Should Know About the SEC

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s remarks to the Twentieth Annual Stanford Directors’ College; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

The SEC today has about 4,200 employees, located in Washington and 11 regional offices across the country, including one in San Francisco that is very ably led by Regional Director Jina Choi, who is here [June 23, 2014]. Many of you have likely had some contact with our Division of Corporation Finance, which, among other things, has the responsibility to review your periodic filings and your securities offerings. Some of you that work for or represent a company that we oversee know our staff in our National Exam Program, and I imagine a few of your companies know something about our Enforcement Division staff. Our other major divisions are Investment Management, Trading and Markets and the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis.

So that is just a quick snapshot of the structure of the SEC and as you undoubtedly know, the SEC has a lot on its regulatory plate that is relevant to you—completion of the mandated rulemakings under the Dodd Frank Act and JOBS Act, adopting a final rule on money market funds, enhancing the structure and transparency of our equity and fixed income markets, reviewing the effectiveness of disclosures by public companies, to name just a few. But what you may not be as focused on is the mindset of the agency on some other things that are also relevant to you as directors.

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PCAOB Adopts New and Amended Auditing Standards

The following post comes to us from Michael Scanlon, partner in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance and Corporate Transactions practice groups at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Mr. Scanlon.

On June 10, 2014, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) adopted new and amended auditing standards that expand audit procedures required to be performed with respect to three important areas: (1) related party transactions; (2) significant unusual transactions; and (3) a company’s financial relationships and transactions with its executive officers. The standards also expand the required communications that an auditor must make to the audit committee related to these three areas. They also amend the standard governing representations that the auditor is required to periodically obtain from management.

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