The proposed enhancements to the auditor’s reporting model would be the first change to the standards in more than 70 years. Furthermore, they could significantly impact the content and format of auditors’ reports; the treatment of that information by investors and other users of financial statements; and the relationship and structure of interactions among management, audit committees and auditors as they have developed since the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Posts Tagged ‘Alan Beller’
Over the past year, boards of directors continued to face increasing scrutiny from shareholders and regulators, and the consequences of failures became more serious in terms of regulatory enforcement, shareholder litigation and market reaction. We expect these trends to continue in 2014, and proactive board oversight and involvement will remain crucial in this challenging environment.
During 2013, activist investors publicly pressured all types of companies—large and small, high-flyers and laggards—to pursue strategies focused on short-term returns, even if inconsistent with directors’ preferred, sustainable long-term strategies. In addition, activists increasingly focused on governance issues, resulting in heightened shareholder scrutiny and attempts at participation in areas that historically have been management and board prerogatives. We expect increased activism in the coming year. We also expect boards to continue to have to grapple with oversight of complex issues related to executive compensation, shareholder litigation over significant transactions, risk management, tax strategies, proposed changes to audit rules, messaging to shareholders and the market, and board decision-making processes. And, as evidenced in recent headlines, in 2014 the issue of cybersecurity will demand the attention of many boards.
In the years since the financial reporting scandals and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and in particular following the financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, boards of directors have faced greater burdens and more intense scrutiny of their activities and performance. One manifestation of this has been pressure to change the role of directors from one of partnership with and oversight of management to one of an almost quasi-governmental watchdog directly responsible for monitoring management’s performance, including its compliance with increasingly complex and burdensome regulation. In addition, activist investors continue to publicly push some boards to pursue strategies focused on short-term returns, even in instances where those strategies are inconsistent with the directors’ preferred, sustainable long-term strategies for the corporation.
In recent years, we have advised that directors regularly work with their advisors to monitor and adapt to the continually changing landscape. Among other things, we have suggested more frequent, well-structured engagement with shareholders, a focus on the ability to communicate the corporation’s and board’s policies in a way that is understandable and convincing to the corporation’s constituencies, and that directors prepare to respond to increasing external pressures in a manner that both thoughtfully takes those pressures into account and fully reflects the director’s carefully considered view of the long-term interests of the corporation.
In addition to these general points, we also have seen developing during 2012 a series of additional specific issues, discussed below, on which we believe boards of directors and corporations should focus in 2013.
In the latest of a string of litigation victories it has scored in the Second Circuit, the Securities and Exchange Commission convinced a panel of the Second Circuit on September 6, 2012, to vacate a district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Obus, No. 10 Civ. 4749. In so doing, the Circuit clarified, and to some extent modified, the standards for tipper/tippee insider trading under the misappropriation theory.
The SEC alleged that Thomas Strickland, an employee of General Electric Capital Corporation (“GE Capital”), tipped a friend of his, Peter Black, who worked for a hedge fund, about a planned acquisition of Sunsource, Inc., by Allied Capital Corporation, that GE Capital was financing. The SEC alleged that Black relayed the tip to his boss, Nelson Obus, who then traded on the information. The SEC argued that all three participants were liable under the misappropriation theory, alleging that Strickland owed a fiduciary duty to GE Capital to keep the information about the acquisition confidential, that he breached this duty by disclosing the information to Black, and that Black and Obus knew or should have known that Strickland was breaching a duty by providing the tip.
A shareowner’s right to vote on matters as allowed under state or federal law, stock exchange rules or otherwise is a key right. Shareowner voting has also become an increasingly important element in the consideration of public company corporate governance. Recent developments have spotlighted the nature and quality of the communication process and its impact on shareowner voting and governance. These developments include adoption by a number of public companies, especially larger companies, of majority voting in uncontested director elections, the amendment of New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Rule 452 to prohibit broker discretionary voting in uncontested director elections and the increased influence of activist shareowners and proxy advisory firms. The confluence of these developments has heightened the likelihood of more meaningful, and contested, shareowner votes and elevated the importance of shareowner communications in the context of voting and governance.