Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.
Posts Tagged ‘Compliance & ethics’
As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.
US federal laws and regulations, as well as the rules of self-regulatory organizations, impose numerous yearly reporting and compliance obligations on private equity firms. While these obligations include many routine and ongoing obligations, new and emerging regulatory developments also impact private equity firms’ compliance operations. This post provides a round-up of certain annual or periodic investment advisory compliance-related requirements that apply to many private equity firms. In addition, this post highlights material regulatory developments in 2014 as well as a number of expectations regarding areas of regulatory focus for 2015.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable and dedicated career of Harvey Goldschmid. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey visited me to discuss his perspectives on a number of timely securities law issues. His superb intellect was reinforced by his engaging personality and skill as a teacher.
Harvey’s intense passion for the securities laws and investor protection was an inspiration to many of us. In authoring a tribute to Harvey Goldschmid in 2006, SEC historian Joel Seligman labeled him one of the most influential Commissioners.  I couldn’t agree more.
This conference provides us with an opportunity to look backward and to look forward. As I look back over the SEC’s history, I am always impressed by the rate and degree of change.
Picture Wall Street 80 years ago—the street was filled with dozens of young men—“runners”—carrying paper back and forth between various brokers and dealers and banks and exchanges and companies that made up the securities markets. Runners were the backbone of the securities market, delivering paperwork and stock certificates at a rate of $8 per day. Maybe the telephone would ring (the desk telephone was launched in 1932) or a telegram would arrive. And investors, would look to the newspaper to decide what stocks to buy or sell.
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.
This post highlights what we believe to be the most significant developments during 2014 for financial institutions with respect to U.S. Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (“BSA/AML”) and U.S. sanctions programs, including sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and identifies significant trends. The overarching trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future is an intense focus on BSA/AML and sanctions compliance by multiple government agencies, combined with increasing regulatory expectations and significant enforcement actions and penalties.
Today [January 14, 2015], the Commission considers rules that are designed to address the lack of transparency in the security-based swaps (SBS) market that substantially contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. These rules are the result of the Congressional mandate in the Dodd-Frank Act, which directed the SEC and the CFTC to create a regulatory framework to oversee this market.
The global derivatives market is huge, at an amount estimated to exceed $692 trillion worldwide—and more than $14 trillion represents transactions in SBS regulated by the SEC. The continuing lack of transparency and meaningful pricing information in the SBS market puts many investors at distinct disadvantages in negotiating transactions and understanding their risk exposures. In addition, as trillions of dollars have continued to trade in the OTC market, there is still no mandatory mechanism for regulators to obtain complete data about the potential exposure of individual financial institutions and the SBS market, in general.
The ability of corporate directors to exercise effective judgment and oversight will be aided by an awareness of emerging white collar enforcement trends of the federal government.
These trends are primarily reflected in a notable series of significant speeches and other public comments made this fall by representatives of the Department of Justice. These include speeches made by senior officials of DOJ’s Criminal and Antitrust Divisions, as well as Attorney General Holder. Collectively, these trends may help to inform boards with respect to transactional planning, risk evaluation and compliance oversight, among other critical matters.
U.S. public companies face a host of challenges as they enter 2015. Here is our list of hot topics for the boardroom in the coming year:
- 1. Oversee strategic planning in the face of uneven economic growth and rising geopolitical tensions
- 2. Oversee cybersecurity as hackers seek to infiltrate even the most sophisticated information security systems
- 3. Assess the impact of advances in technology and big data on the company’s business plans
- 4. Cultivate shareholder relations and assess company vulnerabilities as activist investors target more companies
- 5. Consider the impact of M&A opportunities
- 6. Oversee risk management as newer and more complex risks emerge
- 7. Ensure appropriate board composition in light of increasing focus on diversity, director tenure and board size
- 8. Explore new trends in reducing corporate health care costs
- 9. Set appropriate executive compensation
- 10. Ensure the company has a robust compliance program as the SEC steps up its enforcement efforts and whistleblowers earn huge bounties.
As companies prepare for the second year of filings under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) new conflict minerals rule, many companies are looking for guidance from the first annual filings, which were due June 2, 2014. As expected, the inaugural Form SD and conflict minerals report filings reflect diverse approaches to the new compliance and disclosure requirements. We offer below some observations based on the first round of conflict minerals filings for companies to consider as they address their compliance programs and disclosures for the 2014 calendar year. It is important to note, however, that the shape of future compliance and reporting obligations will be impacted by the outcome of the pending litigation challenging the conflict minerals rule, which also is discussed below, and any subsequent action by the SEC.