May 10, 2021

Climate Change: SEC Staff Scrutinizing Financial Disclosures

Over the years, the SEC’s Accounting leaders have used the Baruch College Financial Reporting Conference to message disclosure review initiatives, such as the non-GAAP review that happened in 2016. At last week’s conference, Corp Fin’s Chief Accountant Lindsay McCord warned that the Staff is scrutinizing how companies account for climate-related risks & impacts based on accounting rules. This blog from Cooley’s Cydney Posner has more details (also see this Accounting Today article):

According to McCord, as they conduct reviews of SEC filings, the staff will consider the impact of environmental matters in the application of current accounting standards, such as the standards for asset retirement, environmental obligations and loss contingencies. In that regard, at the same conference, Acting SEC Chief Accountant Paul Munter referred the audience to FASB guidance, issued in March, regarding the intersection of ESG and financial accounting standards, which addresses accounting as well as management disclosures.

The FASB guidance gives examples of how GAAP can intersect with ESG – e.g., going concern evaluations, risks & uncertainities disclosures, inventory issues, impairments, contingencies, and tax estimates. Page 48 of this slide deck from the conference walks through how the finance function fits in to ESG governance & controls – from data collection, to data controls, to reporting know-how. It notes that assurance over non-financial reporting is slowly increasing (see the internal controls resources in our “ESG” Practice Area).

In light of how these remarks build on February’s directive to the Corp Fin Staff to scrutinize climate change disclosures, it’s a good idea to loop in your financial reporting team on your climate disclosures. SEC Chair Gary Gensler also said last week before the House Financial Services Committee that the Commission would likely propose disclosure rules later this year.

Say-on-Pay: The Reckoning Continues

I’ve been blogging about this year’s unprecedented say-on-pay results on Here’s the latest entry, from last week:

Wow. This Semler Brossy memo recounts say-on-pay results through April 29th. Three takeaways jump out:

– The current failure rate (4.2%) is 2x higher than the failure rate at this time last year (2.1%); however, it is still early in the season and we will monitor whether the failure rate remains at an elevated level following annual meetings for the 12/31 FYE filers

– 13.6% of companies thus far have received an “Against” recommendation from ISS, which is nearly as high as any full-year “Against” rate observed since 2011

– The average vote results of 89.0% for the Russell 3000 and 87.1% for the S&P 500 thus far in 2021 are well below the average vote results at this time last year

At least three more failures rolled in since this memo was published. Here’s a WSJ article about two of them, and one company’s comp committee members also faced a “vote no” campaign for approving mid-stream changes to the CEO’s inducement grant. Diving into company-by-company results underscores what an unusual season this is, because there also have been several high-profile votes at which say-on-pay technically passed, but received less than 70% approval.

Coming in below the 70% level is dangerous because ISS will recommend against comp committee members next year if it doesn’t feel the board adequately responds to shareholders’ pay concerns. Moreover, a low say-on-pay vote can be “blood in the water” for activists.

If you haven’t held your meeting, keep up your engagements. Some companies are even filing additional soliciting material to encourage positive votes. We could be seeing a lot of changes to comp plans next year…

More on “Tweaks to NYSE’s Related Party Transaction Rule”: Are You Amending Your Policy?

Lynn blogged about recent amendments to the NYSE Listed Company Manual that would decouple NYSE pre-approval requirements for related party transactions from the $120,000 threshold in Item 404 of Regulation S-K. A few members have asked whether other NYSE-listed companies are amending their policies in light of this change. Please participate in this anonymous poll to help your fellow corporate secretaries decide what to do:

picture polls

Liz Dunshee