Tag: Shareholder communications


Responding to Institutional Investor Requests for Access to Independent Directors

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Karessa L. Cain.

Recent statements by BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard and other institutional investors clearly articulate their expectation that companies should provide access to independent directors and should adopt a structure for regular investor/director communications. In responding to these requests, there is a range of approaches that companies could adopt which, in each case, should be tailored to the specific circumstances of the company. Indeed, institutional investors have specifically stated that they do not seek any particular method to ensure access to, and relationships with, directors. However, they have made it clear that it will color their attitude toward the company if the company first begins to provide access to directors only after the company has been attacked by an activist.

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Building Meaningful Communication and Engagement with Shareholders

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at the national conference of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals, 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.

I am honored to be with you here in Chicago at the Society’s 69th National Conference. Over the years, the Society has consistently provided thoughtful comments to the Division of Corporation Finance and the Commission on a wide variety of issues and proposed rules. You understand the complexities that can affect multiple parties and recognize the importance of the interests of shareholders. All of you play a critical role in corporate governance. It is the decisions you make, the practical solutions you advance and the views you share with your boards that can, in large part, dictate the relationship between shareholders and companies.

Because of your central roles in your companies, many of the Commission’s initiatives are of interest to you: our disclosure effectiveness review; the audit committee disclosures concept release the staff is working on; and any number of our rulemakings. My hope is that you will see near-term activity in these and other areas, including rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, such as the clawbacks rule as required by Section 954, the pay ratio rule under Section 953(b) and the joint rulemaking on incentive compensation as required by Section 956. So stay tuned for those developments.

But today my focus is on a selection of proxy-related issues, another area of particular interest to you. And my overall theme complements the theme of your conference, “Connect, Communicate, Collaborate.” Be proactive in building meaningful communication and engagement with your shareholders.

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Getting to Know You: The Case for Significant Shareholder Engagement

F. William McNabb III is Chairman and CEO of Vanguard. This post is based on Mr. McNabb’s recent keynote address at Lazard’s 2015 Director Event, “Shareholder Expectations: The New Paradigm for Directors.”

I’ll begin my remarks with a premise. It’s a simple belief that I have. And that is: Corporate governance should not be a mystery. For corporate boards, the way large investors vote their shares should not be a mystery. And for investors, the way corporate boards govern their companies should not be a mystery. I believe we’re moving in a direction where there is less mystery on both sides, but each side still has some work to do in how it tells its respective stories.

So let me start by telling you a little bit about Vanguard’s story and our perspective. I’ll start with an anecdote that I believe is illustrative of some of the headwinds that we all face in our efforts to improve governance: “We didn’t think you cared.” A couple of years ago, we engaged with a very large firm on the West Coast. We had some specific concerns about a proposal that was coming to a vote, and we told them so.

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Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process

Stephen Erlichman and Catherine McCall are Executive Director and Director of Policy Development, respectively, at Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG). This post is based on a CCGG policy publication, titled Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process: Enhanced Engagement and Proxy Access; the complete publication is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Proxy access is the corporate governance cause célèbre in the 2015 U.S. proxy season. There has been a concerted push on the part of institutional shareholders and others to convince companies to adopt proxy access, most commonly in the form of a trigger of 3% of outstanding voting shares held for 3 years. Shareholders have responded very favourably to the proxy access shareholder proposals put forward by institutions such as the New York City Pension Funds through its Board Accountability Project. A surprising (to many) number of companies [1] have adopted proxy access on the 3%/3 year basis, including some of the largest, best known and established of U.S. companies, some voluntarily and without a majority approved shareholder proposal on the matter. In Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG), an organization which represents institutional shareholders that collectively own or manage approximately Cdn $3 trillion of assets and which has a mandate to promote good corporate governance at Canadian public companies, has just released its own proxy access policy. The policy, entitled Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process: Enhanced Engagement and Proxy Access (available here), has been developing for over a year following widespread input and consultation among CCGG’s members and other market participants.

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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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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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