July 25, 2017

Regulatory Reform: What Do Investors Think?

Legislative efforts at governance & disclosure reform – such as the “Financial Choice Act” – have gotten a lot of attention this year. This Rivel Research study asked institutional investors what they thought of those efforts – and the short answer is “not much.”

North American & European institutional investors oppose major change in the US governance regulatory framework. Here are some of the study’s conclusions:

– Two-thirds (65%) believe a weakened SEC will have a negative effect on governance outcomes.
– A large plurality (43%) oppose efforts to pare back the Dodd-Frank Act. Only 18% support it. The rest are uncertain.
– There is widespread opposition (among two in three proxy voters) to rolling back the Act’s mandates for board diversity disclosure, political spending disclosure, & separation of Chair/CEO
– Even if Dodd-Frank is pared back, the vast majority of investors believe that companies should continue to honor/abide by the rules originally set forth within. In fact, many will be seeking expanded disclosure in many areas.

In the event that key governance & disclosure mandates are repealed, the study also says that companies should prepare for increased engagement – nearly half of the investors said they would ramp up their efforts to engage companies on governance matters. What’s more, 41% say they’ll be more inclined to support an activist if the rules are pared back.

We’re posting memos on reform ideas in our “Regulatory Reform” Practice Area.

Is Sarbanes-Oxley in the Cross-Hairs?

Now that the House of Representatives has passed the Financial Choice Act, is Sarbanes-Oxley next on its “hit list”? This recent blog from Cooley’s Cydney Posner says a key part of it just might be. Here’s the intro:

What’s next for the House after taking on Dodd-Frank in the Financial CHOICE Act? Apparently, it’s time to revisit SOX. The Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Securities, and Investment of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing earlier this week entitled “The Cost of Being a Public Company in Light of Sarbanes-Oxley and the Federalization of Corporate Governance.”

During the hearing, all subcommittee members continued bemoaning the decline in IPOs and in public companies, with the majority of the subcommittee attributing the decline largely to regulatory overload. A number of the witnesses trained their sights on, among other things, the internal control auditor attestation requirement of SOX 404(b). Is auditor attestation, for all but the very largest companies, about to hit the dust?

Whistleblowers: $61 Million Reasons to Drop a Dime!

Holy Cow! I guess this isn’t signed, sealed & delivered just yet, but the SEC Staff is apparently recommending a $61 million award to 2 whistleblowers who played a role in a $267 million settlement with J.P. Morgan. Here’s an excerpt from an AdvisorHub article:

Two whistleblowers whose outing of JPMorgan Chase’s bias toward selling wealth customers in-house funds led to the bank’s $267 million settlement with the government will receive payments equal to 23% of the award, according to a “preliminary determination” letter by SEC claim-review staffers.

The letter, a copy of which whistleblower Johnny Burris provided to AdvisorHub and other publications, recommends that the regulator pay one whistleblower 18% of the award, or $48.1 million, while a second receive 5%, or $13.1 million. The SEC by policy does not name whistleblower award recipients, and Burris would not confirm whether he was one of the successful claimants.

The requests of four other claimants for an award were denied because their information did not contribute to the SEC’s examinations, corollary investigations or significantly affect its enforcement action against JPMorgan, according to the letter. The award would far top the previous record of $30 million, which the SEC announced in September 2014.

John Jenkins