In this year’s Foreword, Dougherty differentiates the need for directors to focus on their core mission of informed oversight and vigilance rather than merely reacting to the constant influx of “daily corporate governance commentary,” and explores other front-burner issues, such as the marked increase in SEC enforcement actions and other recent SEC initiatives; the continuing trend of class action suits as de facto settlement instruments; proxy advisory firm priorities for directors; and new guidance from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that recommends that audit committee directors discuss internal auditing deficiencies with their auditors.
Posts Tagged ‘Oversight’
The SEC today has about 4,200 employees, located in Washington and 11 regional offices across the country, including one in San Francisco that is very ably led by Regional Director Jina Choi, who is here [June 23, 2014]. Many of you have likely had some contact with our Division of Corporation Finance, which, among other things, has the responsibility to review your periodic filings and your securities offerings. Some of you that work for or represent a company that we oversee know our staff in our National Exam Program, and I imagine a few of your companies know something about our Enforcement Division staff. Our other major divisions are Investment Management, Trading and Markets and the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis.
So that is just a quick snapshot of the structure of the SEC and as you undoubtedly know, the SEC has a lot on its regulatory plate that is relevant to you—completion of the mandated rulemakings under the Dodd Frank Act and JOBS Act, adopting a final rule on money market funds, enhancing the structure and transparency of our equity and fixed income markets, reviewing the effectiveness of disclosures by public companies, to name just a few. But what you may not be as focused on is the mindset of the agency on some other things that are also relevant to you as directors.
Strong oversight by boards of directors—meaning typically by authorized board committees—of compliance-and-ethics (“C&E”) programs can be essential to promoting legal and ethical conduct within companies. In a variety of ways, board oversight should help to ensure that a program is effective and that directors and companies are otherwise meeting applicable C&E-related legal standards. Nonetheless, this is an area of uncertainty for many boards and managers, and can even be a struggle for some.
In Reporting to the Board on the Compliance and Ethics Program, published in the June issue of Compliance & Ethics Professional, we examine various aspects of such oversight from a law and good-practices perspective.
Board oversight has long been viewed as an effective mechanism to direct and monitor corporate management. For example, in the wake of accounting scandals last decade, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires all publicly traded companies in the United States to have an audit committee comprised of independent directors, charged with establishing procedures for handling complaints regarding accounting or auditing matters and for the confidential submission by employees of concerns surrounding alleged fraud.
While sustainability has been a concern of corporations and investors for years, there has been little research focused on how boards oversee a company’s sustainability efforts. Sustainable and responsible investors also have seen board oversight as an effective way to encourage corporations to accelerate such efforts; they began filing shareholder proposals requesting board oversight of various sustainability issues in the 1970s, and both the numbers of resolutions and the support those resolutions have received have grown exponentially since. It is worth noting that one such model proposal, formulated by The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and requesting board oversight of political spending in addition to key disclosure features, accounts for the vast majority of sustainability shareholder resolutions on board oversight and resulted in political spending being a top subtopic of board oversight duties.
Delay in confronting crises is deadly. Corporate leaders must have processes for learning of important safety issues. Then they must seize control immediately and lead a systematic response. Crisis management is the ultimate stress test for the CEO and other top leaders of companies. The mantra for all leaders in crisis management must be: “It is our problem the moment we hear about it. We will be judged from that instant forward for everything we do—and don’t do.”
These are key lessons for leaders in all types of businesses from the front page stories about Toyota’s and GM’s separate, lengthy delays in responding promptly and fully to reports of deadly accidents possibly linked to product defects.
The news focus has been on regulatory investigations and enforcement relating to each company, but the ultimate question is why the company leaders didn’t forcefully address the possible defect issues when deaths started to occur.
Good morning. I am very honored to be giving the welcoming remarks and to offer a few perspectives from my first 10 months as Chair. Looking back at remarks made by former Chairs at this event, the expectation seems to be for me to talk about the “State of the SEC.” I will happily oblige on behalf of this great and critical agency.
In 1972, 42 years ago at the very first SEC Speaks, there were approximately 1,500 SEC employees charged with regulating the activities of 5,000 broker-dealers, 3,500 investment advisers, and 1,500 investment companies.
Today the markets have grown and changed dramatically, and the SEC has significantly expanded responsibilities. There are now about 4,200 employees—not nearly enough to stretch across a landscape that requires us to regulate more than 25,000 market participants, including broker-dealers, investment advisers, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, municipal advisors, clearing agents, transfer agents, and 18 exchanges. We also oversee the important functions of self-regulatory organizations and boards such as FASB, FINRA, MSRB, PCAOB, and SIPC. Only SIPC and FINRA’s predecessor, the NASD, even existed back in 1972.
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.
It is often argued that venture capital (VC) plays an important role in promoting innovation and growth. Consistent with this belief, governments around the world have pursued a number of policies aimed at fostering local venture capital activity. The goal of these policies has been to replicate the success of regions like Silicon Valley in the United States. However, there remains scarce evidence that the activities of venture capitalists actually play a causal role in stimulating the creation of innovative and successful companies. Indeed, venture capitalists may simply select companies that are poised to innovate and succeed, even absent their involvement. In this case, efforts by policy-makers to foster local venture capital activity would be misguided. In our paper, The Impact of Venture Capital Monitoring: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether the activities of venture capitalists do indeed affect portfolio company outcomes.
2013 was a year of continuing challenges and opportunities for U.S. banks. The low-interest rate environment continued to challenge the ability of banks to lend profitably. Already burdensome regulatory demands grew weightier with expanded Dodd-Frank stress testing and the finalization of the Volcker Rule, among other things. More than ever before, the responsibility of directors of financial institutions for regulatory compliance and bank safety and soundness is broadening, highlighted most recently by the OCC’s steps to formalize its program of supervisory “heightened expectations” for larger banks and their directors. Against this backdrop, the banking industry saw steady and creative deal activity, with a pronounced concentration among community banks.
On October 30, 2013, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC”) issued updated guidance to national banks and federal savings associations on assessing and managing risks associated with third-party relationships, which include all business arrangements between a bank and another entity (by contract or otherwise).  The new guidance introduces a “life cycle” approach to third-party risk management, requiring comprehensive oversight throughout each phase of a bank’s business arrangement with consultants, joint ventures, affiliates, subsidiaries, payment processors, computer network and security providers, and other third parties. Rather than mandating a uniform set of rules, however, the guidance instructs banks to adopt risk management processes commensurate with the level of risk and complexity of its third-party relationships. Accordingly, the OCC expects especially rigorous oversight of third-party relationships that involve certain “critical activities.”
The revamped guidance reflects the OCC’s concern that the increasing risk and complexity of third-party relationships is outpacing the quality of banks’ risk management over these outsourcing arrangements. The guidance cautions that a bank’s failure to implement appropriate third-party risk management processes may constitute an unsafe and unsound banking practice, and could prompt formal enforcement actions or a downgrade in a bank’s CAMELS management rating to less than satisfactory. The severity of these consequences suggests that third-party risk management practices are becoming an increasingly important focus of OCC supervisory efforts.