BCLP – US Securities and Corporate Governance – Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

US Securities and Corporate Governance

Proxy Statement

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New ISS 2021 Factors for Governance QualityScore Address Investor Hot Topics

ISS recently released updated methodology for its Governance QualityScore (GQS) rating system for institutional investors.  The new factors relate to areas of emerging concern to investors, with 11 of the 17 new factors addressing information security risk and oversight.  Other new factors relate to board matters, such as diversity, inclusion, practices and composition, and to compensation matters, such as whether and the extent to which special grants have been made to executive officers.  ISS also extended to the U.S. market certain factors regarding the number of boards on which directors serve and shareholder voting rights.  ISS further indicated that the updated methodology reflects the rebalancing of certain existing factors in the categories of Board Commitments and Litigation Rights.

ISS reviews its methodology annually to ensure that its approach remains closely aligned with ISS’ benchmark voting policies and reflects developments in regulatory and market practices.  Key updates to ISS’ benchmark voting policies for the 2021 proxy season are summarized in our December 11, 2020 post. The new factors and factors newly applied to the U.S. market include:

New Factors as of January 29, 2021:

Audit (Information Security Risk Oversight)

  • What percentage of the committee responsible for information security risk is independent? (Q403)
  • How often does senior leadership brief the board on information security matters? (Q404)
  • How many directors with information security experience are on the board? (Q405)

Audit (Information Security Risk Management)

  • Does the company disclose an approach on identifying and mitigating information security risks? (Q402)

Don’t Forget! Refresher on Glass Lewis COVID-19-Related Guidance and ISS Compensation-Related FAQs

For companies knee deep in proxy statement drafting and 2021 executive compensation decisions, we recommend a quick refresher on Glass Lewis’ December 2020 Approach to Executive Compensation in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic and ISS’ October 2020 COVID-19-related compensation FAQs, as well as ISS’ more general December 2020 compensation-related FAQs and equity plan-related FAQs.  Highlights include:

Glass Lewis Approach to Executive Compensation in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Glass Lewis released this December 2020 guidance to illustrate how it will apply its executive compensation policies in 2021 in the wake of COVID-19.  Glass Lewis noted that the pandemic has not changed its approach to executive pay, which is a “pragmatic, contextual approach that applies in good times and bad.”  Some of the key topics covered are:

Pay-for-Performance Analysis.  Glass Lewis does not expect the macroeconomic climate to have a drastic impact on its pay-for-performance model and will continue to take a holistic approach when evaluating the alignment between executive pay and company performance within the context of the pay-for-performance model and the pandemic.

Say-on-Pay Proposals.  Glass Lewis notes that how companies respond to changing macroeconomic conditions resulting from the pandemic will dominate say-on-pay votes.  Given that an executive’s base salary represents a relatively low portion of his or her total compensation, Glass Lewis will view temporary base salary reductions in the face of the pandemic to be token gestures.  Glass Lewis will instead look closely at overall pay levels, including scrutinizing mid-cycle pay

Turning Up the Heat on Board Diversity and E & S Risk Oversight: Quick Guide to ISS and Glass Lewis 2021 Proxy Season Updates

Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis recently released their respective policy updates for the 2021 proxy season.  Key updates are summarized below.

Glass Lewis’ 2020 Proxy Season Review: Boards Become Increasingly Younger

Glass Lewis (“GL”) recently issued its 2020 Proxy Season Review (U.S.) (the “Report”) covering the U.S. 2020 Proxy Season (i.e., January 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020).  GL reported on certain 2020 shareholder voting trends and results, as well as certain of GL’s voting recommendations.  The statistics and information included below (1) cover only a portion of the Report and (2) refer to the U.S. 2020 Proxy Season and to the U.S. companies covered by GL, unless otherwise indicated.

Governance and Disclosure

  • Boards are becoming increasingly younger; for example, for companies in the Russell 3000 Index (the “Russell 3000”), (1) the average age for new director nominees decreased to 54.8 years from 55.9 and 57.7 years in 2019 and 2018, respectively, and (2) the average age of all directors decreased to 61.2 years from 61.8 and 63.5 years in 2019 and 2018, respectively;
  • For Russell 3000 companies, the average tenure of men on boards decreased slightly to 12.4 years from 12.9 years in 2019, while the average tenure of women on such boards increased more significantly to 7.2 years from 6.0 years in 2019;
  • Approximately 13.2% of boards did not include women, which was reduced from 18.8% in 2019 and 26.2% in 2018;
  • The number of women in board leadership positions at Russell 3000 companies has increased each year during the past three years; however, women are more likely to serve as committee chairs rather than as board chairs, vice chairs or lead directors; men hold approximately 94.5% of chair

Divided SEC increases Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal requirements

On September 23, 2020, a divided SEC adopted amendments to the Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal rule by a 3-2 vote. The changes, among other things:

  • increased the stock ownership requirement for eligibility to submit a proposal,
  • strengthened certain procedural requirements, and
  • raised the thresholds to resubmit a proposal that was previously voted on by shareholders.

Click here for a client alert describing the amendments in more detail.

SEC Issues New COVID-19 Guidance: Health-Related or Personal Transportation Benefits May Be Perqs

The SEC Division of Corporate Finance yesterday issued new Regulation S-K guidance, CD&I 219.05, to help public companies determine whether benefits provided to executive officers because of COVID-19 should be disclosed as perquisites or personal benefits for purposes of executive compensation proxy disclosures.  Consistent with Release 33-8732A, the guidance confirms that an item provided because of the COVID-19 pandemic is not a perquisite or personal benefit if it is “integrally and directly related to the performance of the executive’s duties,” which depends on the particular facts.

The CD&I states:  “In some cases, an item considered a perquisite or personal benefit when provided in the past may not be considered as such when provided as a result of COVID-19. For example, enhanced technology needed to make the NEO’s home his or her primary workplace upon imposition of local stay-at-home orders would generally not be a perquisite or personal benefit because of the integral and direct relationship to the performance of the executive’s duties. On the other hand, items such as new health-related or personal transportation benefits provided to address new risks arising because of COVID-19, if they are not integrally and directly related to the performance of the executive’s duties, may be perquisites or personal benefits even if the company would not have provided the benefit but for the COVID-19 pandemic, unless they are generally available to all employees.”

Perqs have been, and will continue to be, an area of SEC focus.  We urge companies to carefully give thought

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