Tag: Shareholder communications


Optimizing Proxy Communications

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

Proxy statements continue to evolve. New disclosure trends are sharpening company messaging to investors, while other disclosure practices leave investors seeking clarification.

To learn what kinds of disclosures are most valuable to investors, EY asked them where they would like to see disclosure enhancements and the kinds of disclosure practices they prefer.

The EY Center for Board Matters recently had conversations with 50 institutional investors, investor associations and advisors on their corporate governance views and priorities.

This post is the third in a series of four posts based on insights gathered from those conversations and previewing the 2015 proxy season. The first post (available here) focused upon board composition; the second (available here) upon shareholder activism. The upcoming final post will focus on the shareholder proposal landscape.

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Shareholder Activism: an Engagement Opportunity

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

The recent surge in shareholder activism [1] continues to keep boards on alert heading into the 2015 proxy season. Some companies are taking proactive measures to prepare for potential activist investor campaigns, including engaging long-term institutional investors.

Based on what we’re hearing from long-term institutional investors, these efforts are worthwhile in that they foster constructive relationships and alignment with key shareholders.

The EY Center for Board Matters (the Center) recently had conversations with 50 institutional investors, investor associations and advisors on their corporate governance views and priorities. We also gained insights from investors, directors and other stakeholders through our proxy season dialogue dinners. [2]

This post is the second in a series of four posts based on insights gathered from those conversations and previewing the 2015 proxy season. The first post (available here) focused upon board composition. The upcoming two will focus on proxy statement disclosures, and the shareholder proposal landscape.

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Updated CD&A Template Aims to Improve Communication

Matt Orsagh is a director at CFA Institute.

Matt Orsagh is a director at CFA Institute.

In 2011, CFA Institute released the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) Template as a tool to help companies produce a more succinct and informative CD&A that served the needs of both companies and investors. At the time there were complaints from both issuers and investors that the typical CD&A was seen by too many issuers as a compliance document that was too lengthy and too opaque to serve as the communication tool investors desired.

In the intervening years disclosures in the CD&A have improved a great deal, due in part to increased engagement between issuers and investors, a better understanding of disclosure best practices by issuers, and more willingness by some issuers to experiment with more creative ways of telling their stories.

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Directors Should Communicate with Shareholders

John Wilcox is chairman of Sodali and former Head of Corporate Governance at TIAA-CREF. This post is based on a Sodali publication by Mr. Wilcox.

John Wilcox is chairman of Sodali and former Head of Corporate Governance at TIAA-CREF. This post is based on a Sodali publication by Mr. Wilcox.

To demonstrate their effectiveness, corporate boards should increase transparency, provide an annual report of boardroom activities and take charge of their relations with shareholders.

With shareholders continuing to press for ever-deepening levels of engagement, companies must find a way to answer the most basic question of corporate governance: “How effective is the board of directors?” It is a question that can only be answered by the board itself, but it presents directors with a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge is to overcome the mindset, habits and perceived risks that have long kept boardroom activities under wraps. The opportunity, on the other hand, is to define governance and strategic issues from the board’s perspective, manage shareholder expectations, take the engagement initiative away from shareholders and reduce the likelihood of activism. Directors should give careful consideration to this opportunity. Over the long term, it will be far better for companies to control the process by which board transparency is achieved rather than waiting for yet again another set of governance reforms that could further erode the board’s authority.

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2014 Proxy Season Mid-Year Review

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on an edition of ProxyPulse™, a collaboration between Broadridge Financial Solutions and PwC’s Center for Board Governance; the full report, including additional figures, is available here.

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on an edition of ProxyPulse™, a collaboration between Broadridge Financial Solutions and PwC’s Center for Board Governance; the full report, including additional figures, is available here.

This post looks at results from 2,788 shareholder meetings held between January 1 and May 22, 2014. We provide data and analyses on areas such as share ownership composition, director elections, say-on-pay, proxy material distribution and the mechanics of shareholder voting. We also look at differences in proxy voting by company size.

With about three-quarters of the 2014 proxy season complete, voting results continue to show that public company executives and directors must remain vigilant regarding corporate governance matters. In comparison to last proxy-season at this time, large-cap ($10b+) companies have attained higher levels of shareholder support both for directors and for executive compensation plans. In contrast, support levels for executive compensation plans fell at mid-cap ($2b–$10b), small-cap ($300m–$2b) and micro-cap ($300m or less) companies, and support for directors fell at mid-cap companies.

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Measuring Readability in Financial Disclosures

The following post comes to us from Tim Loughran and Bill McDonald, both of the Department of Finance at the University of Notre Dame.

The following post comes to us from Tim Loughran and Bill McDonald, both of the Department of Finance at the University of Notre Dame.

The Fog Index has become a popular measure of financial disclosure readability in recent accounting and finance research. The SEC has even contemplated the use of the Fog Index to help identify poorly written financial documents. However, the measure has migrated to financial applications without its efficacy in the context of business disclosures having been determined.

In our forthcoming Journal of Finance paper, Measuring Readability in Financial Disclosures, we argue that traditional readability measures like the Fog Index are poorly specified in the realm of business writing. The Fog Index is based on two components: sentence length and word complexity. Although sentence length is a reasonable readability measure, it is difficult to accurately measure in financial documents. More importantly, we show that the count of multisyllabic words in 10-K filings is dominated by common business words that should be easily understood. Frequently used “complex” words like company, operations, and management are not going to confuse consumers of SEC filings. Additionally, the correlation of complex words with alternative measures of readability contradicts its traditional interpretation.

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How Foreign Firms Communicate with US Investors

The following post comes to us from Russell Lundholm, Rafael Rogo, and Jenny Li Zhang, all of the Accounting Division at the University of British Columbia.

The following post comes to us from Russell Lundholm, Rafael Rogo, and Jenny Li Zhang, all of the Accounting Division at the University of British Columbia.

Foreign companies that trade their equity in the US face serious obstacles. They must navigate a complex set of SEC disclosure requirements, while at the same time satisfying US investor expectations about the frequency and content of voluntary disclosures. Their home country may be far from the US, speak a different language, use different accounting rules, and offer different types of investor protection than the US, and each of these differences presents a friction that must be mitigated in order to attract US investors. Given these cultural, procedural, and linguistic differences, one might expect that the disclosures of foreign firms would be of lower quality than their US firm counter-parts. Nonetheless, in our paper, Restoring the Tower of Babel: How Foreign Firms Communicate with US Investors, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we find that foreign firms traded in the US present more numerical data and write more readable text in the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) section of their 10-K, and write more readable text in their earnings press releases, than comparable US firms. More importantly, we find that the readability of text and amount of numerical data in both the MD&A and earnings press releases increase with the foreign firm’s distance from the US. Finally, we find that within a country, firms with relatively more readable disclosures attract relatively more US institutional investment.

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Recommendations from Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. Arthur H. Kohn is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post relates to a report from The Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement, one of three related publications released by The Conference Board Governance Center as a result of its year-long multifaceted study of corporate/investor engagement.

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. Arthur H. Kohn is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post relates to a report from The Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement, one of three related publications released by The Conference Board Governance Center as a result of its year-long multifaceted study of corporate/investor engagement.

The 2008 financial crisis and the slow recovery that has followed has brought further evidence tending to support the view that the structure of our corporate sector needs adjustment, and that its faults affect the competitiveness of our economy. The crisis has resulted, as would be expected, in a raft of new rules and regulations, which as usual have been implemented before there emerged any consensus about the nature of the problems. There has also been a vigorous competition of ideas over causes and remedies.

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Introduction to the SDX Protocol

James Woolery is Deputy Chairman of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Co-Chair of its Corporate Department and head of its Business Development Group. This post is based on an excerpt from the Shareholder Director Exchange (SDX) Protocol, a framework to guide engagement between directors, which is sponsored by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Teneo Holdings, LLC, Tapestry Networks, Inc. and the participating directors and investor representatives of the SDX™. The complete publication is available here.

James Woolery is Deputy Chairman of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Co-Chair of its Corporate Department and head of its Business Development Group. This post is based on an excerpt from the Shareholder Director Exchange (SDX) Protocol, a framework to guide engagement between directors, which is sponsored by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Teneo Holdings, LLC, Tapestry Networks, Inc. and the participating directors and investor representatives of the SDX™. The complete publication is available here.

The Shareholder-Director Exchange (SDX™) [1] is a working group of leading independent directors and representatives from some of the largest and most influential long-term institutional investors. [2] SDX participants came together to discuss shareholder-director engagement and to use their collective experience to develop the SDX Protocol, a set of guidelines to provide a framework for shareholder-director engagements. While the decision to engage directly with investors should be made in consultation with or at the request of management, the 10-point SDX Protocol offers guidance to US public company boards and shareholders on when such engagement is appropriate and how to make these engagements valuable and effective.

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Considerations for Directors in the 2014 Proxy Season and Beyond

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and John Olson is a founding partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Washington, D.C. office and a visiting professor at the Georgetown Law Center. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Ms. Goodman, Mr. Olson, Gillian McPhee, and Michael J. Scanlon.

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and John Olson is a founding partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Washington, D.C. office and a visiting professor at the Georgetown Law Center. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Ms. Goodman, Mr. Olson, Gillian McPhee, and Michael J. Scanlon.

As we begin 2014, calendar-year companies are immersed in preparing for what promises to be another busy proxy season. We continue to see shareholder proposals on many of the same subjects addressed during last proxy season, as discussed in our post recapping shareholder proposal developments in 2013. To help public companies and their boards of directors prepare for the coming year’s annual meeting and plan ahead for other corporate governance developments in 2014, we discuss below several key topics to consider.

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