October 29, 2008

CD&A at a Crossroads

With November just around the corner and, for many companies, perhaps the last compensation committee meeting of the year scheduled in the next two months, it is now critically important to start thinking about your Compensation Discussion & Analysis for the 2009 proxy statement. There is still time for companies and compensation committees to take appropriate actions that can serve as the foundation for the analytical disclosure in the CD&A that the SEC and others expect. Many of these actions were discussed in detail last week at our two conferences, “Tackling Your 2009 Compensation Disclosures: The 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference” and the “5th Annual Executive Compensation Conference,” as well as at the “16th Annual NASPP Conference.”

To kick off the CD&A panels at the 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference, I noted my view that CD&A is really at a crossroads this coming proxy season. In many ways, the 2009 proxy season will likely determine whether CD&A slides into irrelevance like its predecessor, the old Board Compensation Committee Report, or whether it will finally provide the crucial analytical background to the compensation numbers that was intended all along. I don’t think that the possibility for irrelevance is overblown – complaints are surfacing that institutional investors are skipping over CD&A and going straight to the compensation tables, because they are not finding useful information presented in the CD&A. This trend was confirmed by Pat McGurn and others on “The Investors and Proxy Advisors Speak” panel at the 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference. This trend, in my view, can only lead to trouble, because investors are only getting part of the story if they skip the explanation and rationale that is supposed to be included in the CD&A.

Several factors will certainly contribute to the focus on CD&A in 2009 and beyond. If some form of say-on-pay is enacted and investors are given the opportunity to cast an advisory vote on the CD&A and the other compensation disclosures, then what is said this next proxy season will be an important backdrop for voting decisions, even if mandatory say-on-pay votes don’t occur until 2010. Further, while the recent Emergency Economic Stabilization Act and the TARP program implementing that legislation included executive compensation provisions that are only applicable to participating financial institutions, the existence of these provisions in the federal legislation are reason enough to compel companies to consider taking action now on executive pay concerns – whether analogous to the Act’s provisions or in other areas that remain a significant focus of investor criticism. As Broc noted in the blog last week, John White’s speech at our 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference included White’s views on how the executive compensation provisions of the TARP may be instructive for other companies on how they should approach their executive compensation programs. Finally, with 2008 being a year when many companies faced significant challenges given the markets and the economy, all eyes will be on the CD&A in the 2009 proxy to see what compensation committees did do – or did not do – to address executive pay in the face of difficult conditions.

It may be that we now find ourselves at a broader tipping point on executive pay, marked by the recognition of some pay excesses in recent federal legislation and a clearly rising level of anger among investors over how compensation decisions may have contributed to the current situation.

Now it is up to all boards and their advisors to take the public and shareholder anger to heart when making compensation decisions. These developments make this year very different from what we have been dealing with in the past. As a result, disclosures must be different, and the company and compensation committee actions described in those disclosures need to be different. I don’t think that this is a situation where you can just look at the disclosure in a vacuum and try to tweak it here are there – there needs to be some deep consideration in the next two months as to how the compensation policies and decisions are going to be explained to investors in 2009.

For more on John White’s speech and how executive compensation disclosure should be changing in 2009, take a look at Mark Borges’ initial blog and follow-up blog on the 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference.

Waxman Seeks Wall Street Compensation Data

In a sure sign of how much things have changed, the focus on excessive compensation seems to be shifting from the executive suite to the broader employee population at those major financial institutions receiving an infusion of government money. In the wake of press reports on Monday about the size of Wall Street bonuses this year, Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent letters to nine major banks seeking detailed data about overall employee compensation at the banks. In the letter, Waxman states: “While I understand the need to pay the salaries of employees, I question the appropriateness of depleting the capital that taxpayers just injected into the banks through the payment of billions of dollars in bonuses, especially after one of the financial industry’s worst years on record.” Chairman Waxman asks that the information be provided no later than November 10, 2008.

For more on this development, see Broc’s entry today in The Advisors’ Blog on

More Executive Compensation Data in XBRL Format

Last week, a company by the name of Xtensible Data announced that its recently released interactive data website now includes 2006 and 2007 executive compensation data reported in XBRL for more than 4000 companies. This is a significantly greater data set than the SEC provides in its own executive compensation viewer, which only includes 2006 data for 500 large companies.

Like the SEC’s viewer, Xtensible Data’s Corporate Pay interactive tool focuses on the information provided in the Summary Compensation Table. The data is based on information from public filings, and the company has converted the data from HTML or standard text into an interactive XBRL format. The database can be searched based on company name and ticker, stock index, and industry, and the results can be sorted by each column of the Summary Compensation Table, and filtered by executive type and fiscal year. The method used to determine the value of stock and option awards may also be selected by the user. The Corporate Pay tool also allows users to graph the executive compensation information (including comparative graphs) and the data may be downloaded into Excel.

– Dave Lynn