L’audit interne en période de pandémie


Dans le cadre de son quinzième anniversaire, le Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS) publiera quinze articles originaux sur des thèmes recoupant des problématiques de gouvernance dans les organisations.

Voici donc une introduction à la publication du quatrième article qui porte sur la place de l’audit interne dans le contexte de la pandémie, et son rôle dans la gouvernance des sociétés.

Dans son article, Mélanie Roussy* aborde trois paramètres-clés afin de cerner la marge de manœuvre d’un comité d’audit en période de grands bouleversements. L’auteure propose les activités suivantes : (1) envisager le ralentissement ou l’arrêt des activités et revoir la planification des travaux de l’audit interne (2) mettre les connaissances et les compétences de l’équipe d’audit interne au service des besoins essentiels, et (3) veiller au retour à la normale, après la période de mouvance.

« Un contexte turbulent comme celui de la pandémie offre au comité d’audit l’occasion de consolider la qualité des travaux futurs de l’audit interne et son utilité comme mécanisme de gouvernance. Pour ce faire, le comité doit s’assurer que les interventions de l’audit interne demeurent pertinentes en période de turbulence ».

Je vous invite à lire l’article de Mélanie.

Bonne lecture !

Audit interne et gouvernance

 

 

L’audit interne est considéré comme un mécanisme de gouvernance au service du comité d’audit et de la haute direction. Ses travaux apportent notamment du confort aux administrateurs quant à l’efficacité de la gestion des risques (financiers ou non) et du contrôle, contribuent à l’amélioration de la reddition de comptes, tout en stimulant l’apprentissage organisationnel. Toutefois, pour que l’audit interne génère les bénéfices escomptés, encore faut-il que ses interventions soient arrimées aux principales préoccupations du comité d’audit et de la haute direction. De plus, il est impératif que l’audit interne soit perçu comme un aidant au sein de l’organisation, sans quoi son efficacité se trouvera limitée.

La crise sanitaire de 2020 provoquée par la pandémie de la COVID-19 a fortement ébranlé la société canadienne, comme plusieurs autres à l’échelle mondiale. Cela a poussé les organisations, tous secteurs confondus, dans une période d’intenses turbulences. Or, en période de turbulences, les préoccupations des administrateurs et de la direction changent face à l’urgence de la situation. Ainsi, peu importe ce qui a causé lesdites turbulences, qu’elles n’affectent qu’une seule organisation, un secteur d’affaires en particulier ou l’économie en général, il est de la responsabilité du comité d’audit de s’assurer que les interventions de l’audit interne demeurent pertinentes dans ces circonstances exceptionnelles. Ces questions se posent alors : (1) que fait-on avec l’audit interne en période de turbulences ? Et (2) quelle est la marge de manœuvre dont dispose le comité d’audit pour ajuster les responsabilités de l’audit interne sans contrevenir au Cadre de référence internationale des pratiques professionnelles de l’audit interne (ci-après : Cadre de référence) de l’Institut des auditeurs internes (The IIA, IPPF 2017) ? La suite de ce texte aborde trois paramètres à considérer en réponse à ces deux questions.

ENVISAGER LE RALENTISSEMENT OU L’ARRÊT DES ACTIVITÉS ET REVOIR LA PLANIFICATION DES TRAVAUX DE L’AUDIT INTERNE

 

La réalisation des travaux de l’audit interne nécessite obligatoirement la collaboration des gestionnaires responsables du processus audité et de leurs équipes. En période de turbulences, ces derniers sont occupés à gérer les services essentiels et à pallier diverses urgences qui surviennent, souvent en cascade. Ainsi, à moins que le comité d’audit estime qu’un mandat en cours est absolument essentiel, et ce malgré la situation qui prévaut, les travaux en cours de l’audit interne devraient être considérablement ralentis ou carrément mis sur la glace le temps que la situation se résorbe et que le cours « normal » des activités de l’organisation ait repris. Cela évitera de surcharger encore davantage les gestionnaires et leurs équipes tout en limitant les irritants.

Une fois les turbulences passées, il serait d’ailleurs approprié de revoir l’ensemble de la planification des travaux de l’audit interne. En effet, il se peut que les priorités de l’organisation et les risques auxquels elle est exposée aient évolué ; rendant ainsi plus ou moins pertinente la planification datant d’avant les évènements.

METTRE LES CONNAISSANCES ET LES COMPÉTENCES DE L’ÉQUIPE D’AUDIT INTERNE AU SERVICE DES BESOINS ESSENTIELS

 

Durant le ralentissement ou l’arrêt des travaux initialement prévus, le comité d’audit peut autoriser le redéploiement des effectifs de l’audit interne à d’autres fins sans contrevenir au Cadre de référence (The IIA, IPPF 2017), et ce, même si cela peut sembler compromettre l’indépendance de la fonction d’audit interne et l’objectivité des auditeurs internes. En effet, le Cadre de référence (The IIA, IPPF 2017, par. 1112) permet au comité d’audit d’autoriser le responsable de l’audit interne, et donc les membres de son équipe, à assumer des responsabilités en dehors du spectre habituel de l’audit interne. Le comité est alors responsable d’autoriser ces interventions particulières et de superviser leur réalisation. Le comité devra également établir les mesures de sauvegarde de l’indépendance de la fonction et de l’objectivité des auditeurs internes. Il est donc possible de mettre l’audit interne au service des besoins essentiels en temps de crise et de redéployer les effectifs en conséquence, à la condition que le comité d’audit l’autorise et en balise les conditions. Par exemple, on peut notamment envisager de miser sur ces forces de l’équipe d’audit interne :

Connaissance fine de l’organisation

Au cours de la planification et de la réalisation des travaux (ex. audit de performance, audit de conformité, services-conseils en tout genre, participation à des comités de travail, etc.), les auditeurs internes développent une connaissance fine de l’organisation. Le président du comité d’audit ne devrait pas hésiter à se servir de ce vecteur de connaissances qu’est l’audit interne pour obtenir rapidement des réponses aux questions qui préoccupent le comité en période de turbulences. Cette connaissance fine peut être également mise à profit par l’équipe de direction en intégrant par exemple le responsable de l’audit interne à la cellule de crise de la haute direction. Cela permet de supporter l’équipe de direction tout en facilitant la circulation rapide de l’information jusqu’au comité d’audit.

Versatilité et agilité des auditeurs internes

De plus, les auditeurs internes sont habitués à passer d’un mandat à l’autre, d’une division à l’autre pour réaliser leurs travaux. Cela fait d’eux des professionnels versatiles et agiles qui peuvent être déployés rapidement comme personnes-ressources dans plusieurs secteurs névralgiques de l’organisation. Il ne s’agit pas de prétendre qu’ils peuvent tout faire, mais simplement de garder en tête qu’ils sont en mesure d’appuyer les gestionnaires là où les besoins se feront le plus sentir ; de prêter main-forte à leurs collègues.

Savoir-faire associé à la pratique de l’audit

Les auditeurs internes développent un savoir-faire particulier associé à la pratique de l’audit ; savoir-faire qui peut s’avérer utile en période de turbulences. Notamment, les auditeurs internes réalisent fréquemment des analyses comparatives sectorielles afin d’identifier les meilleures pratiques associées à la maîtrise d’un risque en particulier. Par exemple, dans le contexte des turbulences induites par la pandémie de la COVID-19, ce savoir-faire aurait pu contribuer à alimenter le comité de travail chargé de concevoir de nouveaux protocoles de santé et sécurité au travail plutôt que d’attendre après-coup pour envoyer les auditeurs internes auditer ce nouveau protocole.

VEILLER AU « RETOUR À LA NORMALE » APRÈS LA PÉRIODE DE TURBULENCES

 

En pleines turbulences, la pertinence des interventions et la solidarité avec l’ensemble de l’organisation prennent le pas sur l’application pure et dure des principes d’indépendance de la fonction d’audit interne et d’objectivité des auditeurs internes. Il est donc important, dans le respect du Cadre de référence (The IIA, 2017), que le comité d’audit prévoie des lignes directrices visant à circonscrire les conditions de retour la normale des travaux de l’audit interne. Ces lignes directrices devraient d’ailleurs être déterminées en collaboration avec la haute direction et le responsable de l’audit interne, afin de s’assurer que les principaux intéressés soient sur la même longueur d’onde.

En conclusion, l’audit interne devrait faire partie de la solution au côté de la direction et des gens de l’organisation lorsque survient une période de turbulences. Ainsi, même si nous souhaiterions l’éviter, un contexte turbulent peut représenter une opportunité de consolider la perception (voire de la transformer si nécessaire) de l’audit interne comme un joueur à part entière de l’équipe, solidaire dans l’adversité. Non seulement les activités de l’audit interne seront contributoires durant la période de turbulences, mais cela pourrait aussi faciliter ses interventions futures en le positionnant comme un aidant des gestionnaires, sans pour autant compromettre son indépendance et sa pertinence pour le comité d’audit. La qualité globale des travaux futurs de l’audit interne et, conséquemment, son utilité comme mécanisme de gouvernance s’en trouveront ainsi renforcées.

_________________________________________

*Mélanie Roussy, PhD, CPA, CA, ASC, professeure titulaire, École de comptabilité, FSA ULaval

 

Principes de gouvernance qui guident les investissements de BlackRock


BlackRock vient de publier sa position concernant les principes de gouvernance qui doivent guider ses investissements dans les sociétés de rang mondial.

BlackRock est une entreprise pionnière dans la divulgation des critères qu’elle prend en compte avant d’investir dans les organisations. C’est pour cette raison que toutes les personnes intéressées par les questions de gouvernance doivent être bien informées sur les grands principes qui soutiennent ses décisions.

Dans cet article publié par Sandra Boss, responsable mondiale de la gestion des investissements, Michelle Edkins, directrice générale du management des investissements et Shinbo Won, directeur du management des investissements chez BlackRock, inc., les auteurs présentent en détail les règles qui gouvernent les investissements de BlackRock.

Celles-ci sont considérées comme le « Gold standard » dans le monde de la gouvernance.

L’article ci-joint présente la philosophie de placement de l’organisation, ainsi que les principes qui recouvrent les sept thèmes suivants :

    • Conseils et administrateurs
    • Auditeurs et problèmes liés à l’audit
    • Structure du capital, fusions, ventes d’actifs et autres transactions spéciales
    • Rémunération et avantages
    • Problèmes environnementaux et sociaux
    • Questions générales de gouvernance d’entreprise et protection des actionnaires
    • Propositions d’actionnaires

Dans ce billet, je fais référence au premier thème, celui portant sur les principes devant guider la gouvernance des entreprises, notamment les questions relatives à la gouvernance et à la composition des conseils d’administration.

Pour en connaître davantage sur les autres principes, je vous invite à lire l’article au complet.

Bonne lecture !

BlackRock Investment Stewardship Global Principles

 

BlackRock assets reach $7.32T as crisis drives record investments | Fox Business

 

The purpose of this post is to provide an overarching explanation of BlackRock’s approach globally to our responsibilities as a shareholder on behalf of our clients, our expectations of companies, and our commitments to clients in terms of our own governance and transparency.

Introduction to BlackRock

BlackRock’s purpose is to help more and more people experience financial well-being. We manage assets on behalf of institutional and individual clients, across a full spectrum of investment strategies, asset classes, and regions. Our client base includes pension plans, endowments, foundations, charities, official institutions, insurers, and other financial institutions, as well as individuals around the world. As part of our fiduciary duty to our clients, we have determined that it is generally in the best long-term interest of our clients to promote sound corporate governance through voting as an informed, engaged shareholder. This is the responsibility of the Investment Stewardship Team.

Philosophy on investment stewardship

Companies are responsible for ensuring they have appropriate governance structures to serve the interests of shareholders and other key stakeholders. We believe that there are certain fundamental rights attached to shareholding. Companies and their boards should be accountable to shareholders and structured with appropriate checks and balances to ensure that they operate in shareholders’ best interests to create sustainable value. Shareholders should have the right to vote to elect, remove, and nominate directors, approve the appointment of the auditor, and amend the corporate charter or by-laws. Shareholders should be able to vote on matters that are material to the protection of their investment, including but not limited to, changes to the purpose of the business, dilution levels and pre-emptive rights, and the distribution of income and capital structure. In order to make informed decisions, we believe that shareholders have the right to sufficient and timely information. In addition, shareholder voting rights should be proportionate to their economic ownership—the principle of “one share, one vote” helps achieve this balance.

Consistent with these shareholder rights, we believe BlackRock has a responsibility to monitor and provide feedback to companies, in our role as stewards of our clients’ investments. BlackRock Investment Stewardship (“BIS”) does this through engagement with management teams and/or board members on material business issues including environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) matters and, for those clients who have given us authority, through voting proxies in the best long-term economic interests of our clients. We also participate in the public debate to shape global norms and industry standards with the goal of a policy framework consistent with our clients’ interests as long-term shareholders.

BlackRock looks to companies to provide timely, accurate, and comprehensive reporting on all material governance and business matters, including ESG issues. This allows shareholders to appropriately understand and assess how relevant risks and opportunities are being effectively identified and managed. Where company reporting and disclosure is inadequate or the approach taken is inconsistent with our view of what supports sustainable long-term value creation, we will engage with a company and/or use our vote to encourage a change in practice.

BlackRock views engagement as an important activity; engagement provides us with the opportunity to improve our understanding of the business and ESG risks and opportunities that are material to the companies in which our clients invest. As long-term investors on behalf of clients, we seek to have regular and continuing dialogue with executives and board directors to advance sound governance and sustainable business practices, as well as to understand the effectiveness of the company’s management and oversight of material issues. Engagement is an important mechanism for providing feedback on company practices and disclosures, particularly where we believe they could be enhanced. We primarily engage through direct dialogue but may use other tools such as written correspondence to share our perspectives. Engagement also informs our voting decisions.

We vote in support of management and boards where and to the extent they demonstrate an approach consistent with creating sustainable long-term value. If we have concerns about a company’s approach, we may choose to engage to explain our expectations. Where we consider that a company has failed to address one or more material issues within an appropriate timeframe, we may hold directors accountable or take other voting actions to signal our concerns. We apply our voting guidelines to achieve the outcome we believe is most aligned with our clients’ long-term economic interests.

Key themes

We recognize that accepted standards and norms of corporate governance differ between markets; however, there are sufficient common threads globally to identify this overarching set of principles (the “Principles”) which are anchored in transparency and accountability. At a minimum, we expect companies to observe the accepted corporate governance standards in their domestic market or to explain why not doing so supports sustainable long-term value creation.

Our regional and market-specific voting guidelines explain how these Principles inform our voting decisions in relation to specific ballot items for shareholder meetings.

These Principles cover seven key themes:

  • Boards and directors
  • Auditors and audit-related issues
  • Capital structure, mergers, asset sales, and other special transactions
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Environmental and social issues
  • General corporate governance matters and shareholder protections
  • Shareholder proposals

Boards and directors

The performance of the board is critical to the economic success of the company and the protection of shareholders’ interests. As part of their responsibilities, board members owe fiduciary duties to shareholders in overseeing the strategic direction and operation of the company. For this reason, BlackRock focuses on directors in many of our engagements and sees the election of directors as one of our most important responsibilities in the proxy voting context.

We support boards whose approach is consistent with creating sustainable long-term value. This includes the effective management of strategic, operational, and material ESG factors and the consideration of key stakeholder interests. Our primary focus is on the performance of the board of directors. The board should establish and maintain a framework of robust and effective governance mechanisms to support its oversight of the company’s strategic aims. We look to the board to articulate the effectiveness of these mechanisms in overseeing the management of business risks and opportunities and the fulfillment of the company’s purpose. Disclosure of material issues that affect the company’s long-term strategy and value creation, including material ESG factors, is essential for shareholders to be able to appropriately understand and assess how the board is effectively identifying, managing, and mitigating risks.

Where a company has not adequately disclosed and demonstrated these responsibilities, we will consider withholding our support for the re-election of directors whom we hold accountable. We assess director performance on a case-by-case basis and in light of each company’s particular circumstances, taking into consideration our assessment of their governance, sustainable business practices, and performance. In serving the interests of shareholders, the responsibility of the board of directors includes, but is not limited to, the following:

– Establishing an appropriate corporate governance structure

– Supporting and overseeing management in setting long-term strategic goals, applicable measures of value-creation and milestones that will demonstrate progress, and steps taken if any obstacles are anticipated or incurred

– Providing oversight on the identification and management of material, business operational and sustainability-related risks

– Overseeing the financial resilience of the company, the integrity of financial statements, and the robustness of a company’s Enterprise Risk Management [1] frameworks

– Making decisions on matters that require independent evaluation which may include mergers, acquisitions and disposals, activist situations or other similar cases

– Establishing appropriate executive compensation structures

– Addressing business issues, including environmental and social issues, when they have the potential to materially impact the company’s long-term value

There should be clear definitions of the role of the board, the committees of the board and senior management. We set out below ways in which boards and directors can demonstrate a commitment to acting in the best interests of long-term shareholders. We will seek to engage with the appropriate directors where we have concerns about the performance of the company, board, or individual directors. As noted above, we believe that when a company is not effectively addressing a material issue, its directors should be held accountable.

Regular accountability

BlackRock believes that directors should stand for re-election on a regular basis, ideally annually. In our experience, annual re-elections allow shareholders to reaffirm their support for board members or hold them accountable for their decisions in a timely manner. When board members are not re-elected annually, we believe it is good practice for boards to have a rotation policy to ensure that, through a board cycle, all directors have had their appointment re-confirmed, with a proportion of directors being put forward for re-election at each annual general meeting.

Effective board composition

Regular director elections also give boards the opportunity to adjust their composition in an orderly way to reflect the evolution of the company’s strategy and the market environment. BlackRock believes it is beneficial for new directors to be brought onto the board periodically to refresh the group’s thinking and in a manner that supports both continuity and appropriate succession planning. We expect companies to keep under regular review the effectiveness of its board (including its size), and assess directors nominated for election or re-election in the context of the composition of the board as a whole. This assessment should consider a number of factors, including the potential need to address gaps in skills or experience, the diversity of the board, and the balance of independent and non-independent directors. We also consider the average tenure of the overall board, where we are seeking a balance between the knowledge and experience of longer-serving members and the fresh perspectives of newer members.

When nominating new directors to the board, there should be detailed information on the individual candidates in order for shareholders to assess the suitability of an individual nominee and the overall board composition. These disclosures should give a clear sense of how the collective experience and expertise of the board aligns with the company’s long-term strategy and business model. We also expect disclosures to demonstrate how diversity is accounted for within the proposed board composition, including demographic factors such as gender, ethnicity, and age; as well as professional characteristics, such as a director’s industry experience, specialist areas of expertise, and geographic location.

We expect there to be a sufficient number of independent directors, free from conflicts of interest or undue influence from connected parties, to ensure objectivity in the decision-making of the board and its ability to oversee management.

Common impediments to independence may include but are not limited to:

  • Current or recent employment at the company or a subsidiary
  • Being, or representing, a shareholder with a substantial shareholding in the company
  • Interlocking directorships
  • Having any other interest, business, or other relationship which could, or could reasonably be perceived to, materially interfere with a director’s ability to act in the best interests of the company

BlackRock believes that the board is able to fulfill its fiduciary duty when there is a clearly independent, senior non-executive director to chair it or, where the chairman is also the CEO (or is otherwise not independent), a lead independent l director. The role of this director is to enhance the effectiveness of the independent members of the board through shaping the agenda, ensuring adequate information is provided to the board and encouraging independent participation in board deliberations. The lead independent director or another appropriate director should be available to shareholders in those situations where an independent director is best placed to explain and justify a company’s approach.

There are matters for which the board has responsibility that may involve a conflict of interest for executives or for affiliated directors. BlackRock believes that objective oversight of such matters is best achieved when the board forms committees comprised entirely of independent directors. In many markets, these committees of the board specialize in audit, director nominations and compensation matters. An ad hoc committee might also be formed to decide on a special transaction, particularly one involving a related party, or to investigate a significant adverse event.

Sufficient capacity

As the role of a director is demanding, directors must be able to commit an appropriate amount of time to board and committee matters. It is important that every director has the capacity to meet all of his/her responsibilities—including when there are unforeseen events—and therefore, he/she should not take on an excessive number of roles that would impair his/her ability to fulfill his/her duties.

Comment gérer le départ d’un administrateur problématique ?


Voilà une question délicate qui exige une réponse mesurée !

Un article de Michael W. Peregrine, associé de la firme McDermott Will & Emery, publié sur le site du Harvard Law School, propose deux approches qui semblent prometteuses.

(1) Un outil de plus en plus populaire pour les conseils d’administration pour relever ce défi est une politique qui oblige un administrateur à divulguer volontairement à la direction du conseil la survenance d’une telle circonstance. Le conseil, par l’entremise d’un comité spécial, évaluerait la situation dans le contexte de son impact sur la société et de l’efficacité de sa gouvernance, puis rendrait une décision sur la question de savoir si l’administrateur devrait être obligé de démissionner du conseil.

(2) Un autre outil populaire est le « director offboarding », un processus ciblé du conseil pour parvenir à une séparation structurée de certains administrateurs sans susciter de controverse ou de mauvaise volonté. Il vise à permettre au conseil de réaliser le roulement nécessaire plus rapidement et plus largement que par le biais de limites de mandats ou d’âge obligatoire de la retraite, et plus doucement que par la révocation.

Je vous invite à lire la version française de la publication, en utilisant l’outil de traduction de Google, lequel est certainement perfectible.

Bonne lecture !

When That Problematic Board Member Just Won’t Leave

 

When That Problematic Board Member Just Won't Leave

 

Parfois, un dirigeant d’entreprise qui est la principale source des problèmes de réputation d’une entreprise est le dernier à le reconnaître.

C’est pourquoi, afin de protéger l’entreprise contre les controverses indésirables et les atteintes à la réputation, les conseils d’administration bénéficient d’outils discrets pour révoquer les dirigeants et administrateurs problématiques avant la fin de leur mandat, et sans passer par un processus formel de révocation. Ces outils auto-exécutables sont destinés à résoudre les problèmes sans aggraver une mauvaise situation pour l’entreprise, le conseil d’administration et l’administrateur impliqué.

Les problèmes d’image découlent de deux circonstances qui peuvent surgir pendant le mandat d’un réalisateur ; la première classe, les circonstances du fait propre du directeur ; et les circonstances de seconde classe sur lesquelles le directeur peut n’avoir eu aucune responsabilité directe. Une fois en discussion publique, les deux types risquent de nuire à la réputation de l’entreprise, d’interférer ou de perturber le travail du conseil d’administration et de douter (juste ou injuste) de l’aptitude de l’administrateur impliqué à siéger.

La première classe comprendrait les controverses impliquant une organisation perçue négativement où le directeur occupe une position de leadership et qui par association par l’intermédiaire du directeur, remet en question la manière dont cette organisation fonctionne. Les exemples incluent la faillite, les enquêtes gouvernementales, les violations flagrantes de l’éthique d’entreprise, les amendes judiciaires ou réglementaires importantes ou les positions organisationnelles publiques qui sont en contradiction avec les normes sociales ou qui invitent à la diffamation.

La deuxième catégorie comprendrait les controverses qui impliquent ou allèguent une faute personnelle du directeur ; par exemple, allégations ou détermination de violation de la loi ou de la réglementation civile ou pénale, conduite contraire à l’éthique ; l’imposition de sanctions ou de pénalités pour faute personnelle ; allégations ou détermination de manquement à une obligation fiduciaire ; faillite personnelle ; interdiction de service à bord dans un État ou un secteur industriel particulier, ou conséquences similaires des activités personnellement contrôlables d’un administrateur.

Le dénominateur commun entre les deux classes est qu’elles soulèvent toutes deux des questions sur la capacité ou les qualifications continues du directeur à servir l’entreprise et, ce faisant, créent des défis de réputation pour l’entreprise associée à ce service continu. Avec ou sans mérite, le service continu du directeur devient un nouveau problème. Pourquoi ce gars est-il toujours sur leur conseil ?

Dans ces situations, la question pour le conseil est souvent : « Que faire ? » Cela est particulièrement vrai lorsqu’il s’agit d’allégations ou de réclamations, par opposition à des conclusions de fait ou de droit. Il n’est pas inhabituel que les conseils d’administration (ou les cadres supérieurs) adoptent ce qu’ils croient être des positions de principe en faveur du maintien en poste des dirigeants ou administrateurs accusés de certaines conduites, en invoquant l’argument « innocent jusqu’à preuve du contraire ». C’est compréhensible lorsque l’individu en question a des antécédents de service efficace et est bien respecté au sein de l’organisation. Il existe également des circonstances moins compréhensibles. Même dans les cas où les accusations ne sont pas méritées, le préjudice causé à l’entreprise peut encore résulter de l’atmosphère de suspicion qui peut survenir lorsqu’une accusation non fondée est portée.

Le travail du conseil est d’agir dans ce qu’il croit raisonnablement être dans l’intérêt supérieur de l’organisation, de sa mission et de ses parties prenantes. S’agissant des questions d’aptitude personnelle à servir, l’obligation du conseil de protéger la réputation de l’organisation peut être une considération primordiale, indépendamment de l’équité des circonstances. La situation peut créer une publicité négative qui est préjudiciable à l’organisation, déclencher une enquête réglementaire, entraîner une réaction économique significative et perturber le conseil d’administration.

On espère que la plupart des administrateurs reconnaissent un tel problème et démissionnent volontairement du conseil. Mais un tel espoir n’est pas universel dans le monde de l’entreprise…

Un outil de plus en plus populaire pour les conseils d’administration pour relever ce défi est une politique qui oblige un administrateur à divulguer volontairement à la direction du conseil la survenance d’une telle circonstance. Le conseil, par l’entremise d’un comité spécial, évaluerait la situation dans le contexte de son impact sur la société et de l’efficacité de sa gouvernance, puis rendrait une décision sur la question de savoir si l’administrateur devrait être obligé de démissionner du conseil.

Le principal avantage de la politique est sa nature auto-exécutable. Le directeur a déjà accepté de se conformer au processus, le processus a progressé et le maintien du service du directeur au conseil dépend des résultats de l’examen du conseil. Oui, il y a certainement des subtilités situationnelles, des zones grises et des problèmes juridiques impliqués dans une telle approche, mais elle est supérieure à un débat contentieux du conseil d’administration, au refus du directeur de démissionner, à une confrontation avec un directeur qui refuse de démissionner ou à d’éventuelles fuites médiatiques.

Un autre outil populaire est le « director offboarding », un processus ciblé du conseil pour parvenir à une séparation structurée de certains administrateurs sans susciter de controverse ou de mauvaise volonté. Il vise à permettre au conseil de réaliser le roulement nécessaire plus rapidement et plus largement que par le biais de limites de mandats ou d’âge obligatoire de la retraite, et plus doucement que par la révocation.

L’Association nationale des administrateurs de sociétés (NACD) a été un fervent défenseur de l’offboarding, notant que le concept d’administrateur n’est pas de servir aussi longtemps que vous l’on veut, mais de servir aussi longtemps que nécessaire. Comme défini par le NACD et d’autres, les processus de « retrait » sont fondés sur une compréhension partagée par tous les administrateurs des raisons pour lesquelles une personne a été nommée et des attentes du conseil en matière de rendement. Dès le début de leur mandat au conseil, les administrateurs sont idéalement mis au courant de la possibilité qu’on leur demande de quitter le conseil avant la fin officielle de leur mandat. Les accords de démission sont mis en œuvre dans le cadre d’un processus respectueux qui honore le directeur pour son service.

Il y aura des moments où la présence continue d’un administrateur au conseil d’administration deviendra problématique, pour des raisons qui peuvent ou non être de sa propre faute. Dans ces situations, le temps est peut-être insuffisant pour résoudre complètement les équités de la situation. L’optique est tellement mauvaise que le réalisateur doit partir — mais il ne comprend pas l’allusion. Les conseils ont donc besoin d’un mécanisme, en dehors d’un processus de retrait contentieux, pour aider discrètement et respectueusement le directeur à reconnaître l’heure de départ et pour l’escorter jusqu’à la sortie.

C’est une chose pour un administrateur de pouvoir résoudre le problème ; c’est une autre chose si l’administrateur ne réalise pas que le problème c’est lui.

Top 10 des billets publiés sur Harvard Law School Forum au 26 novembre 2020


 

Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 26 novembre 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

 

Ericsson jolts the FCPA top ten list | The FCPA Blog

 

  1. Acquisition Experience and Director Remuneration
  2. Russell 3000 Database of Executive Compensation Changes in Response to COVID-19
  3. Risks of Back-Channel Communications with a Controller
  4. Cyber: New Challenges in a COVID-19–Disrupted World
  5. Varieties of Shareholderism: Three Views of the Corporate Purpose Cathedral
  6. ISS Releases New Benchmark Policies for 2021
  7. Why Have CEO Pay Levels Become Less Diverse?
  8. The Department of Labor’s ESG-less Final ESG Rule
  9. SEC Adopts Rules to Modernize and Streamline Exempt Offerings
  10. EQT: Private Equity with a Purpose

La rémunération incitative en contexte de pandémie 2021


Voici un texte intéressant publié par Hugue St-Jean | Conseiller, rémunération des dirigeants et gouvernance et Bridgit Courey | Associée et conseillère principale, tous deux de la firme Perrault Conseil.

Les auteurs abordent la rémunération incitative en contexte de pandémie et présentent différentes approches pour mieux appréhender cette situation exceptionnelle. Voici certaines mesures à envisager pour 2021.

    1. Insister davantage sur les programmes d’intéressement à long terme (RILT);
    2. Faire un octroi supplémentaire au RILT pour compenser les pertes subies
      pendant la pandémie;
    3. Modifier les indicateurs de rendement.

Je vous invite à lire le document suivant afin de prendre connaissance des scénarios proposés.

INCITATIFS EN CONTEXTE DE PANDÉMIE

 

PCI Perrault Conseil – Notre expertise est à votre disposition pour vous aider à mettre en place des solutions de rémunération sensées permettant de soutenir l'atteinte de vos objectifs organisationnels.

 

Les perturbations économiques causées par la pandémie ont exacerbé les risques liés à la rémunération variable et à la rémunération à base d’actions dans un contexte très volatil.

À l’approche de l’automne 2020, la plupart des entreprises dont l’exercice financier prend fin au quatrième trimestre se demandent comment évaluer le rendement pour 2020 et comment fixer les objectifs de 2021.

Certaines entreprises ont déjà envisagé différentes approches et nous les avons groupées par thèmes. Nous soulignons aussi les avantages et certains risques à considérer résultant des façons d’aborder la rémunération incitative dans un contexte très volatil.

Le défi consiste à équilibrer les attentes des employés et celles des investisseurs tout en garantissant la protection de la pérennité et des liquidités de l’entreprise, en plus de maintenir la motivation et la rétention des employés.

Selon de récents sondages, plus de la moitié des entreprises envisagent de rajuster d’une manière ou d’une autre leur régime d’incitatifs.

Défis et priorités du comité d’audit au cours des prochains trimestres


Voici un article qui devrait inciter les comités d’audit à poser les bonnes questions en situation de pandémie.

L’article a été publié sur le Forum de Harvard Law School par Krista Parsons, directrice générale du Center for Board Effectiveness et Eric Knachel, associé au département Audit & Assurance, chez Deloitte LLP.

Je vous soumets la version française de l’introduction de la publication, en utilisant l’outil de traduction de Google, lequel est certainement perfectible.

 

Auditors face expertise and risk management challenges.

 

Les comités d’audit ont un rôle essentiel à jouer pour aider les entreprises à évoluer et à prospérer dans cet environnement. Pour assurer une surveillance efficace et aider les dirigeants de l’entreprise à traverser ces temps difficiles, les comités d’audit doivent poser des questions directes et ciblées à la direction pour comprendre quelles alternatives ont été envisagées et choisies pour résoudre les problèmes clés. 

Les comités d’audit doivent être conscients des problèmes prioritaires, des tendances et des problèmes en cours, ainsi que des points de tension, des défis et des solutions alternatives associés à ces problèmes.

Bonne lecture !

Audit Committee Challenges and Priorities in the Upcoming Quarter and Beyond

 

 

Comment la COVID-19 affecte-t-elle la rémunération des PDG et des administrateurs ?


Voici un article très intéressant de Andrew Gordon (Equilar, inc.), David F. Larcker (Stanford University), et Courtney Yu (Equilar, inc.) qui analyse les effets de la pandémie sur les rémunérations globales de CEO et des membres des conseils d’administration.

Cet article a été publié sur le Forum en gouvernance de Harvard Law School.

Voici les conclusions et les questionnements des auteurs à la suite d’une étude très détaillée des grandes entreprises américaines. J’ai utilisé l’outil de traduction de google afin de vous présenter les résultats.

Indépendamment de la valeur des ajustements annuels de rémunération que les entreprises ont effectués, les PDG ont subi une perte de richesse considérable en raison de leur propriété directe dans les actions de l’entreprise.

Sharing the Pain: How Did Boards Adjust CEO Pay in Response to COVID-19

 

U.S. firms shield CEO pay as pandemic hits workers, investors | Reuters

 

Pourquoi est-ce important ?

À la suite du COVID-19, moins de 20 % des entreprises publiques ont choisi d’apporter des modifications à leurs programmes de rémunération des dirigeants et des administrateurs. Selon l’angle à travers lequel ces changements sont mesurés — changement de salaire, rémunération totale ou perte de richesse — cela peut être considéré comme un sacrifice relativement modeste ou une perte importante de valeur.

Quelle a été la souffrance économique du PDG type ? En général, cela indique-t-il le succès ou l’échec de la conception du programme de compensation ?

Les entreprises qui ont connu des difficultés économiques étaient beaucoup plus susceptibles de réduire la rémunération des PDG et des administrateurs que celles qui ne l’ont pas fait. Ces PDG ont-ils la responsabilité de placer leurs entreprises dans une position de risque plus élevé entraînant des pertes plus importantes, ou leurs difficultés économiques étaient-elles dues à des facteurs tels que l’exposition à l’industrie qui étaient hors du contrôle du PDG ?

Dans ce dernier cas, les PDG de ces entreprises devraient-ils recevoir à l’avenir des primes supplémentaires pour compenser leurs pertes ? Quelle est la bonne chose à faire d’un point de vue économique ? Une perspective sociétale ?

Les PDG bénéficient généralement d’environnements économiques positifs et de valorisations boursières globales en hausse.

Les PDG devraient-ils être à l’abri des inversions de ces mêmes facteurs ? Dans l’affirmative, quelles implications cette asymétrie a-t-elle sur les incitatifs des PDG ? Cela crée-t-il une condition dans laquelle le PDG bénéficie de tout événement exogène ?

Le concept d’ESG (environnemental, social et de gouvernance) se concentre sur le fait que les entreprises qui embrassent réellement leurs parties prenantes et investissent dans leurs besoins ont un risque plus faible et des performances plus élevées. On s’attend à ce que ces entreprises subissent moins de pertes économiques en cas de ralentissement et qu’elles « agissent correctement » par leurs employés. Cependant, nous n’avons trouvé aucune différence observable entre les scores ESG des entreprises qui ont volontairement réduit la rémunération des PDG/administrateurs et celles qui ne l’ont pas fait, malgré des différences de performance.

Nous n’avons pas non plus trouvé de différence dans les scores ESG selon qu’ils choisissent ou non de licencier des employés.

Qu’est-ce que cela dit sur notre capacité à mesurer avec précision l’ESG ? Les entreprises affichant des scores ESG plus favorables sont-elles réellement « meilleures » du point de vue des parties prenantes ?

L’article complet est disponible en téléchargement ici.

Bonne lecture !

Resserrement des politiques à l’égard du nombre maximum de CA sur lesquels les administrateurs devraient siéger


Quelles sont les lignes directrices énoncées par les firmes de conseil en vote américaines eu égard au nombre de conseils d’administration sur lesquels les administrateurs devraient siéger ?

L’article de Krystal Berrini * publié sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, présente un très bon résumé des politiques mises de l’avant par les firmes de conseil en vote.

Voici une traduction Google révisée du court texte publié récemment.

Au cours des dernières années, de grands investisseurs institutionnels ont répondu à leurs préoccupations croissantes concernant les demandes de services au conseil en adoptant ou en renforçant des politiques concernant le nombre total d’engagements d’un administrateur.

Cette tendance a entraîné une baisse importante du soutien au vote pour certains administrateurs jugés « Overboard » selon ces lignes directrices nouvelles ou resserrées. Dans de nombreux cas, ces politiques sont plus strictes que celles des principaux conseillers en vote.

À l’approche de la saison des procurations 2020, trois investisseurs institutionnels, State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), T. Rowe Price et AllianceBernstein, ont resserré leurs politiques d’engagement des administrateurs.

Grâce à ces politiques d’investisseurs renforcées, les administrateurs non exécutifs qui siègent à plus de quatre conseils d’administration et les PDG qui siègent à plus d’un conseil d’administration externe peuvent s’attendre à voir une diminution du soutien des actionnaires par rapport aux années précédentes.

La pandémie de COVID-19 a concentré l’attention des investisseurs sur une gamme de sujets de gouvernance et de surveillance du conseil d’administration, y compris la gestion des risques, la continuité des activités et la gestion des ressources humaines. Au cours des dernières semaines, un certain nombre d’investisseurs, dont BlackRock et SSGA, ont réitéré leur engagement à tenir les entreprises responsables de leurs pratiques ESG à long terme pendant cette période difficile.

Il est peu probable que les investisseurs s’écartent des directives sur les pratiques existantes, y compris les engagements du conseil. La crise actuelle de COVID-19, qui impose des contraintes supplémentaires au temps consenti par les administrateurs, renforcera probablement encore davantage les points de vue des investisseurs sur l’importance d’avoir la capacité de s’engager pleinement dans tous leurs engagements au sein du conseil en temps de crise.

Vous trouverez ci-dessous un résumé des mises à jour récentes des politiques des investisseurs et des conseillers en matière de procuration sur la participation excessive des administrateurs.

Le tableau indique le nombre de conseils auxquels un administrateur recevra généralement une recommandation ou un vote négatifs. En règle générale, les investisseurs et les conseillers en vote ne s’opposent aux administrateurs exécutifs (PDG) qu’en ce qui concerne leurs engagements comme administrateurs externes.

_____________________________

*Krystal Berrini * associée, Allie Rutherford, directrice générale, et Eric Sumberg, directeur chez PJT Camberview.

Les informations concernant les politiques de conseil aux investisseurs et aux procurations sont obtenues à partir des politiques américaines publiées qui peuvent être consultées sur leurs sites Web respectifs.

 

Le rôle du conseil d’administration face à la COVID-19 : Comment les administrateurs de sociétés devraient-ils agir?


Voici un article d’actualité en cette période de COVID-19 publié par la firme Langlois.

J’ai reproduit l’introduction de l’article.

Bonne lecture !

Le rôle du conseil d’administration face à la COVID-19 : comment les administrateurs de sociétés devraient-ils agir?

 

The role of the board of directors in to the context of COVID-19: how should corporate directors act? - Langlois lawyers

 

Depuis le début de la crise de santé publique et économique causée par la COVID-191, la tentation peut être grande pour les administrateurs de s’immiscer dans la gestion quotidienne de la société ou se substituer à la direction, surtout s’ils portent également le chapeau d’actionnaire. Or, c’est le comité de gestion de crise, souvent composé de dirigeants exécutifs, qui a la responsabilité de gérer la crise au quotidien. Néanmoins, les administrateurs ont eux aussi un rôle à jouer : ils ont le devoir de s’assurer de la bonne gouvernance de la société à court, moyen et long terme2.

Cette responsabilité s’accroît face à la crise et commande une réflexion pour les administrateurs de sociétés qui devront, d’une part, examiner attentivement la manière de gérer les risques actuels au sein de l’organisation ainsi que les risques collatéraux qui pourraient en découler et, d’autre part, prendre note des éléments à améliorer pour le futur.

Dans le cadre de cet article sur la gouvernance de sociétés en période de crise, nous nous penchons plus spécifiquement sur les réflexes de gouvernance à adopter dans le contexte actuel, tout en ne perdant pas de vue l’après COVID-19.

Dix éléments majeurs à considérer par les administrateurs en temps de COVID-19


Voici dix éléments qui doivent être pris en considération au moment où toutes les entreprises sont préoccupées par la crise du COVID-19.

Cet article très poussé a été publié sur le forum du Harvard Law School of Corporate Governance hier.

Les juristes Holly J. Gregory et Claire Holland, de la firme Sidley Austin font un tour d’horizon exhaustif des principales considérations de gouvernance auxquelles les conseils d’administration risquent d’être confrontés durant cette période d’incertitude.

Je vous souhaite bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

Ten Considerations for Boards of Directors

 

Boards and Crisis Infographic

 

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents complex issues for corporations and their boards of directors to navigate. This briefing is intended to provide a high-level overview of the types of issues that boards of directors of both public and private companies may find relevant to focus on in the current environment.

Corporate management bears the day-to-day responsibility for managing the corporation’s response to the pandemic. The board’s role is one of oversight, which requires monitoring management activity, assessing whether management is taking appropriate action and providing additional guidance and direction to the extent that the board determines is prudent. Staying well-informed of developments within the corporation as well as the rapidly changing situation provides the foundation for board effectiveness.

We highlight below some key areas of focus for boards as this unprecedented public health crisis and its impact on the business and economic environment rapidly evolves.

 

1. Health and Safety

 

With management, set a tone at the top through communications and policies designed to protect employee wellbeing and act responsibly to slow the spread of COVID-19. Monitor management’s efforts to support containment of COVID-19 and thereby protect the personal health and safety of employees (and their families), customers, business partners and the public at large. Consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.

 

2. Operational and Risk Oversight

 

Monitor management’s efforts to identify, prioritize and manage potentially significant risks to business operations, including through more regular updates from management between regularly scheduled board meetings. Depending on the nature of the risk impact, this may be a role for the audit or risk committee or may be more appropriately undertaken by the full board. Document the board’s consideration of, and decisions regarding, COVID-19-related matters in meeting minutes. Maintain a focus on oversight of compliance risks, especially at highly regulated companies. Watch for vulnerabilities caused by the outbreak that may increase the risk of a cybersecurity breach.

 

3. Business Continuity

 

Consider whether business continuity plans are in place appropriate to the potential risks of disruption identified, including through a discussion with management of relevant contingencies, and continually reassess the adequacy of the plans in light of developments. Key issues to consider include:

  • Employee/Talent Disruption. As more employees begin working remotely or are unable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, continually assess what minimum staffing levels and remote work technology will be required to maintain operations. (Also, as noted above, consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.)
  • Supply Chain and Production Disruption. Review with management the risks that a disruption in the supply chain will cause interruptions in operations and how to protect against such risks, including the availability of alternate sources of supply. Ask management to assess the risks that the company will have difficulty in fulfilling its contractual obligations and how management is preparing to address those risks, including through review of relevant provisions in customer contracts (e.g., force majeure, events of default and termination) to determine what recourse is available.
  • Financial Impact and Liquidity. Review with management the near-term and longer term financial impact (including the ability to meet obligations) of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related impact of the extreme volatility in the financial markets. Understand the assumptions underlying management’s assessment and discuss the likely outcome if those assumptions prove incorrect. Consider the need to seek additional financing or amend the terms of existing debt arrangements.
  • Internal Controls and Audit Function. Consider whether COVID-19 may have an impact on the functioning of internal controls and audit. For publicly-traded companies, remember that any material changes in internal control over financial reporting will require disclosure in the next periodic report.
  • Recent Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance: In a March 4, 2020 press release, SEC Chair Jay Clayton urged companies to work with their audit committees and auditors to ensure that their financial reporting, auditing and review processes are sufficiently robust to enable them to meet their obligations under the federal securities laws in the current environment.
  • Key Person Risks and Emergency Succession Plans. Consider whether an up-to-date emergency succession plan is in place that identifies a person who can step in immediately as interim CEO in the event the CEO contracts COVID-19. Consider the need to implement similar plans for other key persons.
  • Incentives. Consider whether incentive plans need to be reworked in light of the circumstances, to ensure that appropriate behaviors are encouraged. Consider delaying setting incentive plan goals until the uncertainty has subsided or try to build in flexibility with respect to any goals set.
  • Board/Governance Continuity. Consider whether the board is appropriately positioned to provide guidance and oversight as the COVID-19 threat expands. Consider scheduling in advance special board meetings and/or information conference calls over the next three to four months, which can be cancelled if not needed. Decide whether to replace in-person meetings with conference calls to help limit the threat of contagion. Consider whether contingencies are in place if a board quorum is not available. Continue to meet regularly in executive session to discuss assessment of how management is managing the crisis.

 

4. Crisis Management

 

During this turbulent time, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders will look to boards to take swift and decisive action when necessary. Consider whether an up-to-date crisis management plan is in place and effective. A well-designed plan will assist the company to react appropriately, without either under- or over-reacting. Elements of an effective crisis management plan include:

  • Cross-Functional Team. Crisis response teams typically include key individuals from management, public relations, human resources, legal and finance. Identify these individuals now and begin meeting so that they are prepared to respond quickly as the crisis develops. The team should be in regular contact with the board (or a designated board member or committee) as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
  • Quick and Decisive Deployment. The plan should include crisis response procedures, communications templates, checklists and manuals that can be readily adapted to a variety of situations for effective, time-critical and agile deployment. The crisis response team should be familiar with the elements of the plan and ready to implement it at a moment’s notice.
  • Contingency Plans. A crisis is inherently unpredictable. However, the company should endeavor to anticipate all potential crises to which it is vulnerable and develop contingency plans to deal with those crises to minimize on-the-fly decision-making.
  • Examples of scenarios to prepare for: What will our response be if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the company? How will we notify employees of a confirmed case and what privacy implications do we need to consider? What planning (e.g., IT training) is required if we need to mandate that our employees work remotely?
  • Thoughtful Communications. The board should oversee the company’s communication strategy. Clear communication and planning within the crisis response team will allow the company to communicate internally and externally in a calm and thoughtful manner, which will help build confidence during a volatile situation.

 

5. Oversight of Public Reporting and Disclosure for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

Companies must consider whether they are making sufficient public disclosures about the actual and expected impacts of COVID-19 on their business and financial condition. The level of disclosure required will depend on many factors, such as whether a company has significant operations in China or is in a highly affected industry (e.g., airlines and hospitality companies). In any event, boards should monitor to ensure that corporate disclosures are accurate and complete and reflect the changing circumstances.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and changing by the day, the SEC acknowledges that it is challenging to provide accurate information about the impact it could have on future operations.

Recent SEC guidance: “We recognize that [the current and potential effects of COVID-19] may be difficult to assess or predict with meaningful precision both generally and as an industry- or issuer-specific basis.” Statement by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on January 30, 2020.

  • Earnings Guidance. Consider whether previously issued earnings guidance should be downgraded to reflect the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 and, if so, how to describe the reason for the revision. Due to the current unpredictability of COVID-19’s impact, consider withdrawing previously-issued earnings guidance altogether or refraining from issuing guidance in the near term.
  • Risk Factor Disclosure. Consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may require additions or revisions to risk factor disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “We also remind all companies to provide investors with insight regarding their assessment of, and plans for addressing, material risks to their business and operations resulting from the coronavirus to the fullest extent practicable to keep investors and markets informed of material developments.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Potential topics for risk factor disclosure include:
      • Disruptions to business operations whether from travel restrictions, mandated quarantines or voluntary “social distancing” that affects employees, customers and suppliers, production delays, closures of manufacturing facilities, warehouses and logistics supply and distribution chains and staffing shortages
      • Uncertainty regarding global macroeconomic conditions, particularly the uncertainty related to the duration and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and related decreases in customer demand and spending
      • Credit and liquidity risk, loan defaults and covenant breaches
      • Inventory writedowns and impairment losses
      • Ensure that risk factor disclosure is consistent with the board’s conversations with management about material risks.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “One analytical tool to evaluate disclosure in this context is to consider how management discusses … risks with its board of directors. Obviously not all discussions between management and the board are appropriate for disclosure in public filings, but there should not be material gaps between how the board is briefed and how shareholders are informed.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • As always, risk factor disclosure should be specific to a company’s individual circumstances and avoid generic language. Finally, be careful not to describe a risk related to COVID-19 as hypothetical if it has actually occurred.
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A). Consider whether the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 on a company’s business (including its supply chain), financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and/or prospects would be deemed material to an investment decision in the company’s securities and require disclosure. Consider whether the impact or potential impact of COVID-19 on the company is a “known trend or uncertainty” requiring disclosure in the MD&A of the next periodic report. Tailor any MD&A disclosures to the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s business in particular. Consider whether disclosures appropriately address the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on future results of operations.
  • Subsequent Events. A joint statement by SEC and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) leadership on February 19, 2020 specific to COVID-19 reporting considerations encouraged companies to consider the need to potentially disclose subsequent events in the notes to the financial statements in accordance with guidance included in Accounting Standards Codification 855, Subsequent Events.
  • Forward-Looking Statements. Consider whether the company’s forward-looking statement disclaimer language adequately protects the company for statements it makes regarding the expected impacts of COVID-19. It should be specific and consistent with updates made to the risk factors and other public disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Companies providing forward-looking information in an effort to keep investors informed about material developments, including known trends or uncertainties regarding the coronavirus, can take steps to avail themselves of the safe harbor in Section 21E of the Exchange Act for this information.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Updates. Consider whether prior disclosures should be revised to ensure they are accurate and complete. While there is no express duty to update a forward-looking statement, courts are divided as to whether a duty to update exists for a forward-looking statement that becomes inaccurate or misleading after the passage of time (from the perspective of claim under Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5).
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Depending on a company’s particular circumstances, it should consider whether it may need to revisit, refresh, or update previous disclosure to the extent that the information becomes materially inaccurate.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Proxy Statements. Given the SEC’s emphasis on discussion of how boards oversee the management of material risks, consider expanding the proxy statement disclosure of board oversight of COVID-19-related risks where material to the business. 5Recent SEC guidance: “To the extent a matter presents a material risk to a company’s business, the company’s disclosure should discuss the nature of the board’s role in overseeing the management of that risk. The Commission last noted this in the context of cybersecurity, when it stated that disclosure about a company’s risk management program and how the board engages with the company on cybersecurity risk management allows investors to better assess how the board is discharging its risk oversight function. Parallels may be drawn to other areas where companies face emerging or uncertain risks, so companies may find this guidance useful when preparing disclosures about the ways in which the board manages risks, such as those related to sustainability or other matters.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • Also, consider cautioning stockholders that the annual meeting date and logistics are subject to change.
  • Current Reports. Consider the need to file a Form 8-K for material developments such as if the CEO or another key person or a significant portion of the workforce contracts COVID-19.
  • Conditional Filing Relief. Companies that anticipate filing delays due to COVID-19 should consider taking advantage of the SEC’s March 4, 2020 order granting an additional 45 days to meet Exchange Act reporting obligations for reports due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

6. Compliance with Insider Trading Restrictions and Regulation FD for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

  • Insider Trading. Closely monitor and consider further restricting trading in company securities by insiders who may have access to material nonpublic information related to COVID-19 impacts (e.g., by requiring additional training, imposing blackout periods or enhancing preclearance procedures).
  • Recent SEC guidance: If a company “become[s] aware of a risk related to the coronavirus that would be material to its investors, it should refrain from engaging in securities transactions with the public and … take steps to prevent directors and officers (and other corporate insiders who are aware of these matters) from initiating such transactions until investors have been appropriately informed about the risk.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Carefully consider whether the company should potentially buy back stock to take advantage of significantly depressed stock prices.
  • Regulation FD. Be mindful of Regulation FD requirements, particularly if sharing information related to the impact of COVID-19 with customers and other stakeholders.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “When companies do disclose material information related to the impacts of the coronavirus, they are reminded to take the necessary steps to avoid selective disclosures and to disseminate such information broadly.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.

 

7. Annual Shareholder Meeting

 

With the Center for Disease Control recommending that gatherings of 50 or more persons be avoided to assist in containment of the virus, consider with management whether to hold a virtual-only shareholders meeting or a hybrid meeting that permits both in-person and online attendance. Public companies that are considering changing the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting, including a switch from an in-person meeting to a virtual or hybrid meeting, will need to review applicable requirements under state law, stock exchange rules and the company’s charter and bylaws. Companies that change the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting should comply with the March 13, 2020 guidance issued by the Staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance and the Division of Investment Management. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

8. Shareholder Relations

 

Activism and Hostile Situations. Continue to ensure communication with, and stay attuned to the concerns of, significant shareholders, while monitoring for changes in stock ownership. Capital redemptions at small- and mid-sized funds may lead to fewer shareholder activism campaigns and proxy contests in the next several months. However, expect well-capitalized activists to exploit the enhanced vulnerability of target companies. The same applies to unsolicited takeovers bids by well-capitalized strategic buyers. If they have not already done so, boards should update or activate defense preparation plans, including by identifying special proxy fight counsel, reviewing structural defenses, putting a poison pill “on the shelf” and developing a “break the glass” communications plan.

 

9. Strategic Opportunities

 

Consider with management whether and if so where opportunities are likely to emerge that are aligned with the corporation’s strategy, for example, opportunities to fulfill an unmet need occasioned by the pandemic or opportunities for growth through distressed M&A.

 

10. Aftermath

 

Consider with management whether the changes in behavior occasioned by the pandemic will have any potential lasting effects, for example on employee and consumer behavior and expectations. Also, be prepared when the crisis abates to assess the corporation’s handling of the situation and identify “lessons learned” and actionable ideas for improvement.

Guide des administrateurs 2020 | Deloitte


Le document suivant, publié par Deloitte, est une lecture fortement recommandée pour tous les administrateurs, plus particulièrement pour ceux et celles qui sont des responsabilités liées à l’évaluation de la  performance financière de l’entreprise.

Pour chacun des sujets abordés dans le document, les auteurs présentent un ensemble de questions que les administrateurs pourraient poser :

« Pour que les administrateurs puissent remplir leurs obligations en matière de présentation de l’information financière, ils doivent compter sur l’appui de la direction et poser les bonnes questions.

Dans cette publication, nous proposons des questions que les administrateurs pourraient poser à la direction concernant leurs documents financiers annuels, afin que ceux-ci fassent l’objet d’une remise en question appropriée ».

Je vous invite à prendre connaissance de cette publication en téléchargeant le guide ci-dessous.

Guide des administrateurs 2020

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "guide des administrateurs 2020 Deloitte"

 

Le dilemme d’un administrateur indépendant dans un cas de vol de données


Voici un cas publié sur le site de Julie McLelland qui aborde une situation où Trevor, un administrateur indépendant, croyait que le grand succès de l’entreprise était le reflet d’une solide gouvernance.

Trevor préside le comité d’audit et il se soucie de mettre en place de saines pratiques de gouvernance. Cependant, cette société cotée en bourse avait des failles en matière de gestion des risques numériques et de cybersécurité.

De plus, le seul administrateur indépendant n’a pas été informé qu’un vol de données très sensibles avait été fait et que des demandes de rançons avaient été effectuées.

L’organisation a d’abord nié que les informations subtilisées provenaient de leurs systèmes, avant d’admettre que les données avaient été fichées un an auparavant ! Les résultats furent dramatiques…

Trevor se demande comment il peut aider l’organisation à affronter la tempête !

Le cas a d’abord été traduit en français en utilisant Google Chrome, puis, je l’ai édité et adapté. On y présente la situation de manière sommaire puis trois experts se prononcent sur le cas.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont toujours les bienvenus.

Le dilemme d’un administrateur indépendant dans un cas de vol de données

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trevor est administrateur d’une société cotée qui a été un «chouchou du marché». La société fournit des évaluations de crédit et une vérification des données. Les fondateurs ont tous deux une solide expérience dans le secteur et un solide réseau de contacts et à une liste de clients qui comprenait des gouvernements et des institutions financières.

Après l’entrée en bourse, il y a deux ans, la société a atteint ou dépassé les prévisions et Trevor est fier d’être le seul administrateur indépendant siégeant au conseil d’administration aux côtés des deux fondateurs et du PDG. Il préside le comité d’audit et, officieusement, il a été l’initiateur des processus de gouvernance et de sa documentation.

Les fondateurs sont restés très actifs dans l’entreprise et Trevor s’est parfois inquiété du fait que certaines décisions stratégiques n’avaient pas été portées à son attention avant la réunion du conseil d’administration. Comme l’expérience de Trevor est l’audit et l’assurance, il suppose qu’il n’aurait pas ajouté de valeur au-delà de la garantie d’un processus sain et de la tenue de registres.

Il y a trois semaines, tout a changé. Une grande partie des données de l’entreprise ont été subtilisées et transférées sur le « dark web ». Ce vol comprenait les données financières des personnes qui avaient été évaluées ainsi que des données d’identification tels que les numéros de dossier fiscal et les adresses résidentielles. Pire, la société a d’abord affirmé que les informations ne provenaient pas de leurs systèmes, puis a admis avoir reçu des demandes de rançon indiquant que les données avaient été fichées jusqu’à un an avant cette catastrophe.

Plusieurs clients ont fermé leur compte, les actionnaires sont consternés, le cours de l’action est en chute libre et la presse réclame plus d’informations.

Comment Trevor devrait-il aider l’entreprise à surmonter cette tempête ?

Pour prendre connaissance de ce cas, rendez-vous sur www.mclellan.com.au/newsletter.html et cliquez sur « lire le dernier numéro ».

Adam’s Answer

 

This is a critical time for Trevor legally and reputationally, it is also a time when being an independent director carries additional responsibility to the company, the shareholders, the staff and the customers.

All Directors and Executives can only have one response to a blackmail attempt.  That is to immediately report it to the police and not respond to the ransomware demands.  Secondly the company should have had a crisis management plan in place ready for such an eventuality.  In this day and age, no company should operate without a cybercrime contingency plan.

In this case it is unclear, but it appears that the authorities were not informed and that Trevor’s company was unprepared for a data breach or ransomware demands.

There are 2 scenarios open to Trevor:

1) If Trevor was not informed straight away of the ransom demands and the CEO and founding Executive Directors knew but did not brief him on the ransom issue and the company’s response, then his independent status has been compromised and he should resign.

2) If Trevor was informed and the whole Board was involved in the response, then Trevor must remain and help the company ride out the storm.   This will involve working with the police, the ASX and crisis management guidance from external suppliers – technical and PR. 

The rule to follow is full transparency and speedy action. 

Trevor should refer to the recent ransomware attack on Toll Logistics and their response which was exemplary.

Adam Salzer OAM is the Chair and Global Designer for Whitewater Transformations. His other board experience includes Australian Transformation and Turnaround Association (AusTTA), Asian Transformation and Turnaround Association (ATTA), Australian Deafness Council, Bell Shakespeare Company, and NSW Deaf Society. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

Julie’s Answer

 

This is a listed company; Trevor must ensure appropriate disclosure. A trading halt may give the company time to investigate, and respond to, the events and then give the market time to disseminate the information. His customer liaison at the stock exchange should assist with implementing a halt and issuing a brief statement saying what has happened and that the company will issue more information when it becomes available.

This will be a costly and distracting exercise that could derail the company from its current successful track.

Three of the four board members are executives. That doesn’t mean the fourth can rely on their efforts. Trevor must add value by asking intelligent questions that people involved in the operations will possibly not think to ask. This board must work as a team rather than a group of individuals who each contribute their own expertise and then come together to document decisions that were not made rigorously or jointly.

Trevor has now learnt that there is more to good governance than just having meetings and documenting processes. He needs to get involved and truly understand the business. If his fellow directors do not welcome this, he needs to consider whether they are taking him seriously or just using him as window-dressing. He should ensure that the whole board is never again left out of the information flow when something important happens (or even when it perhaps might happen).

He should also take the lead on procuring legal advice (they are going to need it), liaising with the regulators, and establishing crisis communications. Engaging a specialist communications firm may help.

Julie Garland McLellan is a non-executive director and board consultant based in Sydney, Australia.

Jinan’s Answer

 

I recommend three separate parallel streams of work for Trevor. 

1. Immediate public facing actions
Immediately apologize and state your commitment to your customers.  Hire a PR firm and have the most public facing person issue an apology. The person selected to issue the apology has to be selected carefully (cannot be the person responsible for leak, and has potential to become the new trusted CEO)

2. Tactical internal actions
Assess the damage and contain the incident.  Engage an incident response firm to assess how the breach happened, when it happened, what was stolen. Confirm that leak doors are closed. Select your IR firm carefully – the better reputed they are, the better you will look in litigation.
Conduct an immediate audit and investigation. You need to understand who knew, when and why this was buried for a year.
Take disciplinary action against anyone who was part of the breach. Post audit, either allow them to keep their equity or buy them out.

3. Strategic actions
Review and update your cybersecurity incident response process.  This includes your ransomware processes (e.g. will you pay, how you pay, etc.), and how you communicate incidents. 
Build cybersecurity awareness, behavior and culture up, down and across your company.  Ensure that everyone from the board down are educated, enabled and enthusiastic about their own and your company’s cyber-safety. This is a journey not a one-off miracle.
Extend cybersecurity engagement to your customers. Be proactive not only on the status of this incident, but also on how you are keeping their data safe.  Go a step further and offer them help in their own cyber-safety.
Create a forward thinking, business and risk-aligned cybersecurity strategy. Understand your current people, process and technology gaps which led to this decision and how you’ll fix them.
Elevate the role of cybersecurity leadership.  You will need a chief information security officer who is empowered to execute the strategy, and has a regular and independent seat at the board table. 

Jinan Budge is Principal Analyst Serving Security and Risk Professionals at Forrester and a former Director Cyber Security, Strategy and Governance at Transport for NSW. She is based in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Huit constats qui reflètent la mouvance de la gouvernance des sociétés


Aujourd’hui, je vous présente un article de John C. Wilcox *, président de la firme Morrow Sodali, paru sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, qui met en lumière les grandes tendances dans la gouvernance des sociétés.

L’article a d’abord été traduit en français en utilisant Google Chrome, puis, je l’ai édité et adapté.

À la fin de 2019, un certain nombre de déclarations extraordinaires ont signalé que la gouvernance d’entreprise avait atteint un point d’inflexion. Au Royaume-Uni, la British Academy a publié Principles for Purposeful Business. Aux États-Unis, la Business Roundtable a publié sa déclaration sur la raison d’être d’une société. Et en Suisse, le Forum économique mondial a publié le Manifeste de Davos 2020.

Ces déclarations sont la résultante des grandes tendances observées en gouvernance au cours des dix dernières années. Voici huit constats qui sont le reflet de cette mouvance.

    1. Reconnaissance que les politiques environnementales, sociales et de gouvernance d’entreprise (ESG) représentent des risques et des opportunités qui ont un impact majeur sur la performance financière ;
    2. Réévaluation de la doctrine de la primauté des actionnaires et de la vision étroite des sociétés comme des machines à profit ;
    3. Adoption de la « pérennité » comme objectif stratégique pour les entreprises, antidote au court terme et voie pour renforcer la confiance du public dans les entreprises et les marchés de capitaux ;
    4. Reconnaissance que les entreprises doivent servir les intérêts de leurs « parties prenantes » ainsi que de leurs actionnaires ;
    5. Réaffirmation du principe selon lequel les entreprises doivent être responsables des conséquences humaines, sociales et de politiques publiques de leurs activités, en mettant l’accent sur la priorité à accorder aux changements climatiques ;
    6. Assertion que la culture organisationnelle est le reflet de son intégrité, de son bien-être interne, de sa pérennité et de sa réputation.
    7. Acceptation de la responsabilité élargie du conseil d’administration pour les questions concernant l’ESG, la durabilité, la finalité et la culture, ainsi que la collaboration avec le PDG pour intégrer ces facteurs dans la stratégie commerciale ;
    8. Émergence du « reporting intégré » [www.integrated reporting.org] avec son programme de réflexion intégrée et de gestion intégrée comme base du « reporting » d’entreprise

J’ai reproduit ci-dessous les points saillants de l’article de Wilcox.

Bonne lecture !

Corporate Purpose and Culture

 

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BlackRock’s Annual Letter

 

On January 14, 2020, right on cue, BlackRock Chairman and Chief Executive Larry Fink published his annual letter to corporate CEOs. This year’s letter, entitled “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance,” is clearly intended as a wake-up call for both corporations and institutional investors. It explains what sustainability and corporate purpose mean to BlackRock and predicts that a tectonic governance shift will lead to “a fundamental reshaping of finance.” BlackRock does not mince words. The letter calls upon corporations to (1) provide “a clearer picture of how [they] are managing sustainability-related questions” and (2) explain how they serve their “full set of stakeholders.” To make sure these demands are taken seriously, the letter outlines the measures available to BlackRock if portfolio companies fall short of achieving sustainability goals: votes against management, accelerated public disclosure of voting decisions and greater involvement in collective engagement campaigns.

In setting forth its expectations for sustainability reporting by portfolio companies, BlackRock cuts through the tangle of competing standard-setters and recommends that companies utilize SASB materiality standards and TCFB climate metrics. In our view, individual companies should regard these recommendations as a starting point—not a blueprint—for their own sustainability reporting. No single analytical framework can work for the universe of companies of different sizes, in different industries, in different stages of development, in different markets. If a company determines that it needs to rely on different standards and metrics, the business and strategic reasons that justify its choices will be an effective basis for a customized sustainability report and statement of purpose.

As ESG casts such a wide net, not all variables can be studied at once to concretely conclude that all forms of ESG management demonstrably improve company performance. Ongoing research is still needed to identify the most relevant ESG factors that influence performance of individual companies in diverse industries. However, the economic relevance of ESG factors has been confirmed and is now building momentum among investors and companies alike.

Corporate Purpose

 

The immediate practical challenge facing companies and boards is how to assemble a statement of corporate purpose. What should it say? What form should it take?

In discussions with clients we are finding that a standardized approach is not the best way to answer these questions. Defining corporate purpose is not a compliance exercise. It does not lend itself to benchmarking. One size cannot fit all. No two companies have the same stakeholders, ESG policies, risk profile, value drivers, competitive position, culture, developmental history, strategic goals. These topics are endogenous and unique to individual companies. Collecting information and assembling all the elements that play a role in corporate purpose requires a deep dive into the inner workings of the company. It has to be a collaborative effort that reaches across different levels, departments and operations within the company. The goal of these efforts is to produce a customized, holistic business profile.

Other approaches that suggest a more standardized approach to corporate purpose and sustainability are also worth consideration:

  • Hermes EOS and Bob Eccles published a “Statement of Purpose Guidance Document” in August 2019. It envisions “a simple one-page declaration, issued by the company’s board of directors, that clearly articulates the company’s purpose and how to harmonize commercial success with social accountability and responsibility.”
  • CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose) has for 20 years been monitoring and scoring “best practices of companies leading in Corporate ” Many of CECP’s best practices take the form of short mission statements that do not necessarily include specific content relating to ESG issues or stakeholders. However, CECP is fully aware that times are changing. Its most recent publication, Investing in Society, acknowledges that the “stakeholder sea change in 2019 has redefined corporate purpose.”

A case can be made for combining the statement of purpose and sustainability report into a single document. Both are built on the same foundational information. Both are intended for a broad-based audience of stakeholders rather than just shareholders. Both seek to “tell the company’s story” in a holistic narrative that goes beyond traditional disclosure to reveal the business fundamentals, character and culture of the enterprise as well as its strategy and financial goals. Does it make sense in some cases for the statement of corporate purpose to be subsumed within a more comprehensive sustainability report?

Corporate Culture

 

Corporate culture, like corporate purpose, does not lend itself to a standard definition. Of the many intangible factors that are now recognized as relevant to a company’s risk profile and performance, culture is one of the most important and one of the most difficult to explain. There are, however, three proverbial certainties that have developed around corporate culture: (1) We know it when we see it -and worse, we know it most clearly when its failure leads to a crisis. (2) It is a responsibility of the board of directors, defined by their “tone at the top.” (3) It is the foundation for a company’s most precious asset, its reputation.

A recent posting on the International Corporate Governance Network web site provides a prototypical statement about corporate culture:

A healthy corporate culture attracts capital and is a key factor in investors’ decision making. The issue of corporate culture should be at the top of every board’s agenda and it is important that boards take a proactive rather than reactive approach to creating and sustaining a healthy corporate culture, necessary for long-term success.

The policies that shape corporate culture will vary for individual companies, but in every case the board of directors plays the defining role. The critical task for a “proactive” board is to establish through its policies a clear “tone at the top” and then to ensure that there is an effective program to implement, monitor and measure the impact of those policies at all levels within the company. In many cases, existing business metrics will be sufficient to monitor cultural health. Some obvious examples: employee satisfaction and retention, customer experience, safety statistics, whistle-blower complaints, legal problems, regulatory penalties, media commentary, etc. For purposes of assessing culture, these diagnostics need to be systematically reviewed and reported up to the board of directors with the same rigor as internal financial reporting.

In this emerging era of sustainability and purposeful governance, investors and other stakeholders will continue to increase their demand for greater transparency about what goes on in the boardroom and how directors fulfill their oversight responsibilities. A proactive board must also be a transparent board. The challenge for directors: How can they provide the expected level of transparency while still preserving confidentiality, collegiality, independence and a strategic working relationship with the CEO?

As boards ponder this question, they may want to consider whether the annual board evaluation can be made more useful and relevant. During its annual evaluation process, could the board not only review its governance structure and internal processes, but also examine how effectively it is fulfilling its duties with respect to sustainability, purpose, culture and stakeholder representation? Could the board establish its own KPIs on these topics and review progress annually? How much of an expanded evaluation process and its findings could the board disclose publicly?

Conclusion—A Sea Change?

 

In addition to the challenges discussed here, the evolving governance environment brings some good news for companies. First, the emphasis on ESG, sustainability, corporate purpose, culture and stakeholder interests should help to reduce reliance on external box-ticking and one-size-fits-all ESG evaluation standards. Second, the constraints on shareholder communication in a rules-based disclosure framework will be loosened as companies seek to tell their story holistically in sustainability reports and statements of purpose. Third, as the BlackRock letters make clear, institutional investors will be subject to the same pressures and scrutiny as companies with respect to their integration of ESG factors into investment decisions and accountability for supporting climate change and sustainability. Fourth, collaborative engagement, rather than confrontation and activism, will play an increasingly important role in resolving misunderstandings and disputes between companies and shareholders.

The 2020 annual meeting season will mark the beginning of a new era in governance and shareholder relations.


*John C. Wilcox is Chairman of Morrow Sodali. This post is based on a Morrow Sodali memorandum by Mr. Wilcox. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Toward Fair and Sustainable Capitalism by Leo E. Strine, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

La montée de l’activisme des stakeholders : Défis et opportunités pour les administrateurs de sociétés


Voici un excellent article de James E. Langston*, associé de la firme Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, sur les nouvelles perspectives offertes par les activités activistes de tout ordre. Cet article a paru sur le site de Harvard Law School on Corporate Governance.

Les points saillants exposés par l’auteur dans cet article sont les suivants :

    • Les activités activistes sont moins orientées vers le profit à court terme ; les investisseurs sont toujours préoccupés par les résultats à court terme, mais ils adoptent également une vision de plus en plus à long terme ;
    • On observe la montée d’une nouvelle forme d’activisme : l’activisme des parties prenantes (stakeholders), ou activisme social, qui emprunte aux méthodes de l’activisme traditionnel pour avancer leurs causes. On parle ici des fonds de pension, des gestionnaires d’actifs et des organisations à but charitables ;
    • Également, on note l’accroissement des activités d’activisme uniquement à long terme. Ces parties prenantes exercent de plus en plus de pression activiste auprès des administrateurs des CA ;
    • Dans le cas des très grandes entreprises, les conseils d’administration et les directions générales sont plus ouverts à des arrangements de gré à gré pour effectuer les changements réclamés par les activistes. Cependant, cette pause dans les relations entre ces deux entités n’est pas une garantie qu’elle ne sera pas suivie de nouvelles demandes toujours plus contraignantes pour les sociétés ;
    • Enfin, le développement de l’activisme continue de prendre de l’ampleur dans les marchés internationaux, en adoptant le modèle et les manières de faire des activistes américains ;

Les auteurs incitent les conseils d’administration à être très vigilants dans l’évaluation des nouveaux risques de gouvernance ainsi que dans la prise en compte des nouvelles occasions qui se présentent.

En tant qu’administrateur, je vous invite à lire cet article pour vous sensibiliser à la nouvelle donne.

Bonne lecture !

Shareholder Activism in 2020: New Risks and Opportunities for Boards

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « stakeholders activistes »

 

The era of stakeholder governance and corporations with a purpose beyond profits is taking hold, with corporate directors expected to answer to more constituencies and shoulder a greater burden than ever before. At the same time, investors—both in the US and abroad—continue to expect corporations to deliver superior financial performance over both the short and long term.

This convergence of purpose and performance will not only shape discussions in the boardroom, but also the complexion of shareholder activism. As the nature of the activist threat has evolved it has created additional obstacles for directors to navigate. But at the same time, this environment has created additional opportunities for boards to level the activist playing field and lead investors and other stakeholders into this new era.

Environmental, Social and Corporate Activism

Today, shareholder activists and governance gadflies are not the only constituencies using the corporate machinery to advocate for change. Social activists and institutional investors are increasingly joining forces and borrowing tactics from the shareholder activist playbook, particularly as they push for ESG reforms. For example, in 2019, prominent pension funds, asset managers and other charitable organizations sent a joint letter to all Fortune 500 companies calling for greater disclosure of mid-level worker pay practices. In addition, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility—on behalf of over 100 investors—spearheaded the submission of more than 10 shareholder proposals focusing on environmental and labor issues for the annual meeting of a single corporation.

We expect this type of stakeholder activism—or the convergence of shareholder activism and social activism—to continue and eventually move beyond the ESG realm. Although this marks yet another trend that boards must be prepared to face, it also offers directors an opportunity to embrace stakeholder interests other than EPS accretion or margin expansion to support the company’s governance profile and long-term strategic plan. To be sure, financial performance of the corporation over the long term, which benefits all stakeholders, will remain paramount, but focusing on the merits of the strategic plan for all stakeholders should help the board ensure management has sufficient runway to implement that plan and garner the support of more, rather than fewer, corporate constituencies along the way.

Long-Only Activism

At the same time, activism by traditional long-only investors also has increased. For example, Neuberger Berman pushed for board refreshment at Ashland Global as part of a Cruiser Capital-led campaign and launched a short-slate proxy contest at Verint Systems that settled when the company agreed to refresh its board and enhance its investor disclosures. Wellington Management also joined the fray, publicly backing—and by some accounts initiating—Starboard’s efforts to scuttle the Bristol Myers/Celgene merger. And T. Rowe Price doubled down on its activism efforts by publicly backing the Rice Brothers’ successful campaign to take control of the EQT board.

The takeaway for directors from this sort of activism is clear – no longer will institutional investors be content to sit on the sidelines or express their views privately. Directors should expect that increased long-only activism will create a challenging environment for active managers (including continued pressure on management fees) and will likely lead more of them to embrace activism, and to do so more publicly, as a way to differentiate their investment strategy.

The question for boards in this new environment is not just whether institutional investors will be a source of ideas for an activist or side with the board or the activist in the event of a campaign, but also whether its institutional investors are likely to themselves “go activist.” Shareholder engagement efforts will continue to be crucial in building support for a strategic plan and counteracting activist tendencies among long-only investors. But in the course of such efforts, directors must be mindful of the fact that not all institutional investors will have the same objectives and be careful to structure their interactions with investors accordingly. Well-advised boards will look for ways to find common ground with long-only investors while articulating the company’s long-term strategy in a manner that emphasizes its corporate purpose and is more likely to resonate with all stakeholders.

Large-Cap Activism and Settlement Agreements

Another trend boards must be aware of in 2020 is the success of certain brand-name activists in “settling” large-cap campaigns without committing to a settlement agreement with a standstill undertaking. Typically, a standstill, preventing the activist from exerting pressure on the company for a certain period of time, is the price the activist pays for the company committing to take certain of the steps proposed by the activist. The standstill is intended to ensure that the company has the breathing room necessary to implement the agreed-upon changes and make its case to investors.

However, several recent large-cap activist situations followed a different script. The companies engaged with the activists and announced a series of changes designed to appease the activist, ranging from purported governance and operational enhancements to full-blown strategic reviews. The activist then issued a separate, choreographed press release, often taking much of the credit for the changes and promising to work with the company to bring about the proposed changes. But that was it—there was no settlement agreement or other commitment by the activist to cease its efforts to influence the board.

Not surprisingly, in at least one of these situations, the company “settled” with an activist without a standstill only to face additional demands from the same activist several months later (and which required additional concessions). As always, the terms of peace with an activist will be shaped by the situational dynamics, but as 2020 dawns, directors should continue to be mindful of the benefits of a standstill.

Activism Abroad

Shareholder activism also continues to expand globally. Boards in Europe and Asia are increasingly finding themselves under pressure from activists. In these situations, boards have faced not only home-grown activists, but also US activists looking to expand their influence and investor base abroad.

We expect this trend to accelerate in 2020 for several reasons:

    • The number of easy activist targets in the US has dwindled.
    • US-based index funds continue to consolidate their ownership of public companies across the globe.
    • Foreign investors are becoming more prone to expect US-style capital allocation policies and shareholder return metrics from non-US companies.

The message to non-US boards is clear: If you aren’t thinking about activism, you should be. This doesn’t mean foreign issuers should reflexively adopt US practices; they shouldn’t. But it does mean that non-US boards should ensure they are prepared to deal with an activist event and consider a strategy that not only takes into account local conditions but also is informed by the relevant lessons from the US experience with shareholder activism.


*James E. Langston is partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on his Cleary memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here); Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? A Flesh-and-Blood Perspective on Hedge Fund Activism and Our Strange Corporate Governance System by Leo E. Strine, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here); Dancing with Activists by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (discussed on the Forum here); and Social Responsibility Resolutions by Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Composition et rôles des comités du conseil soutenant la gouvernance


Les conseils d’administration doivent se doter de comités qui soutiennent la gouvernance d’une organisation. La plupart des sociétés nomment au moins les trois comités statutaires suivants : (1) le comité de ressources humaines (2) le  comité de gouvernance et d’éthique (3) le  comité d’audit.

Le conseil peut former tout autre comité qu’il juge essentiel à la bonne gouvernance de l’entreprise, par exemple les comités des technologies de l’information, de gestion des risques, de gestion environnementale, etc.

Plusieurs organisations se questionnent sur la composition et les rôles des trois comités clés qui soutiennent la gouvernance.

Ainsi, dans le cadre de ce billet, je présente les descriptions des tâches généralement dévolues à ces trois principaux comités.

Exemple d’une structure de gouvernance

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « les comités du conseil d'administration »
Exemple d’une structure de gouvernance

Règles générales

 

Les comités sont composés d’au moins trois membres du conseil d’administration. Le président est membre d’office.

Sur invitation, toute autre personne peut assister, en tout ou en partie, à une réunion d’un comité, lorsque ce dernier le juge nécessaire ou souhaitable.

Les comités ont le pouvoir de faire des recommandations au CA sur tout sujet relevant de leur mandat.

Le comité rend compte de ses travaux au conseil en présentant un sommaire des points discutés lors des rencontres.

(1) Comité de gouvernance et d’éthique 

 

Le comité de gouvernance et d’éthique assume généralement le mandat suivant :

Effectuer une vigie en matière des pratiques de saine gouvernance ;

Établir les profils de compétence et d’expérience pour les membres du conseil et les membres des comités et les réviser lorsque nécessaire ;

Bâtir une matrice des compétences recherchées pour tout nouveau membre du conseil eu égard aux fonctions requises pour assurer une bonne gouvernance fiduciaire, dans une optique d’optimisation et de complémentarité ;

Recommander au conseil d’administration les nominations des administrateurs aux différents comités du CA ;

Recommander la désignation d’un conseiller en éthique et déontologie ;

Proposer des règles de gouvernance, d’éthique et de déontologie au sein du conseil d’administration et des comités, et les réviser lorsque nécessaire ;

Définir une politique d’accueil et d’intégration des nouveaux administrateurs, laquelle inclut les formations appropriées en éthique et en gouvernance ;

Mettre en place un processus annuel d’évaluation du fonctionnement du conseil d’administration et de ses comités afin de mesurer l’apport de ses administrateurs et proposer, s’il y a lieu, les critères d’évaluation et les plans d’action appropriés ;

Proposer une politique de rémunération des administrateurs et des membres des comités, le tout sous réserve de la réglementation en vigueur ;

Effectuer toute autre tâche que lui confie le conseil d’administration.

(2) Comité des ressources humaines 

 

Voici certaines activités du comité de ressources humaines :

Mettre à jour le profil de compétences du poste de directeur général, recommander l’embauche et les conditions d’emploi ou, le cas échéant, la fin d’emploi du directeur général ;

Mettre en place un mécanisme d’appréciation du rendement, procéder à l’évaluation annuelle du rendement et proposer, s’il y a lieu, les plans d’action appropriés ;

Passer en revue les lignes directrices concernant la rémunération globale des employés, notamment les échelles salariales, et en recommander l’approbation au conseil d’administration ;

S’assurer de la mise en place de politiques concernant les ressources humaines, notamment en matière d’embauche, de formation et de développement des compétences, afin de s’assurer que l’organisation puisse attirer, motiver et retenir un personnel de qualité ;

Examiner les propositions de modifications organisationnelles qui pourraient avoir des effets importants sur la structure interne de l’organisation ;

Être informé des négociations entourant le renouvellement de la convention collective, s’il y a lieu, ainsi que des conditions de travail du personnel non syndiqué ;

En ce sens, le comité doit informer le conseil d’administration de toute situation défavorable et proposer des solutions afin de pallier les manques ;

Veiller à établir un plan de relève aux différents postes de direction ;

Effectuer toute autre tâche que lui confie le conseil d’administration.

(3) Comité d’audit 

 

Enfin, voici les principales tâches du comité d’audit, un comité obligatoire :

Exercer une surveillance rigoureuse de l’information financière ;

S’assurer de la mise en place des processus d’audit internes ;

Superviser l’engagement de l’auditeur externe et l’évaluer ;

Approuver le plan d’audit conçu par l’auditeur externe ;

Examiner, préalablement à son dépôt au conseil, la proposition du budget annuel ;

Faire le suivi des différents postes budgétaires ainsi que des états financiers sur une base trimestrielle ;

Être informé des résultats de l’audit et, s’il y a lieu, du rapport annuel de gestion ;

Passer en revue les résultats de tout audit de la firme de comptabilité, les problèmes importants qui ont retenu son attention, ainsi que la réaction ou le plan d’action de la direction relativement à toute lettre de recommandation de l’auditeur et à toute recommandation importante qui y est énoncée ;

S’assurer de la mise en place d’un plan de gestion des risques, notamment les risques liés aux technologies de l’information et à la cybersécurité ;

Revoir la politique de placement de l’organisation en relation avec le plan de gestion des risques ;

Effectuer toute autre tâche que lui confie le conseil d’administration.

Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

La responsabilité des administrateurs eu égard aux risques climatiques | En rappel


Les responsabilités des conseils d’administration ne cessent de s’accroître. La gestion du risque est une activité essentielle qui relève des fonctions de surveillance dévolues aux administrateurs de sociétés.
L’article ci-dessous, publié par Richard Howitt dans Board Agenda, présente clairement les devoirs et les responsabilités des administrateurs eu égard aux changements climatiques.
Pour la plupart des entreprises, il s’agit du risque le plus déterminant quoique souvent le plus sous-estimé. L’auteur montre toute l’ampleur du problème et suggère plusieurs manières d’exercer un leadership éclairé dans la considération des risques de cette nature.
À mon avis, chaque administrateur devrait être bien au fait de la situation et réfléchir aux mesures à prendre. L’auteur note que les entreprises qui divulguent leurs plans concernant les risques climatiques sont perçues de façon positive par les investisseurs.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

 

Bonne lecture !

TCFD summit confirms climate risk should be your board’s priority

 

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) has set a pathway for climate risk to become an integral part of corporate governance.

climate, climate change, ice melting

Image: Bernhard Staehli/Shutterstock

The recent global summit of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) made it clear that companies will increasingly be subject to challenge on management of climate risk by regulators, investors and wider stakeholders.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

There was a call for increased quality and quality of TCFD reporting, now standing at 800, in the Task Force’s last Status Report in June.

But as climate protests fill news bulletins around the world, this month’s summit in Tokyo is potentially far more significant, in setting a pathway for climate risk to become integral and unavoidable for mainstream corporate governance in all economic sectors.

A major push

If the original TCFD recommendations were a call to action, the summit charted an action plan through which they will be implemented.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney used the summit to warn that regulation requiring TCFD reporting is probably two years away, appealing to businesses present to develop their own reporting in the meanwhile, to ensure mandatory measures are shaped to be most effective for business itself.

The veiled threat is that companies who delay on climate disclosure will find themselves subject to costly burden.

Full integration of TCFD recommendations in the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive guidelines is a further sign that Europe may lead mandatory reporting requirements as part of its major push towards sustainable finance, also in the next two years.

Investors are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk

The UK’s own Green Finance Strategy is hardly less ambitious, setting a target for all listed companies and large asset owners to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities by 2022 at the latest. And the capital markets regulator in Australia has issued guidance to company directors on addressing climate risk.

But the global summit was notable for its recognition that investors, not simply regulators, are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk.

One tangible initiative from the summit was new green investment guidance published by Japan’s own TCFD consortium. The effect will be a significant increase in investor engagement with companies on climate issues.

Companies present at the summit reporting anecdotal evidence of increased investor engagement on the issue included Shell, Total and Sumitomo Chemical.

A PwC report cited in Tokyo shows positive correlation between stock or share price and the quantity of TCFD disclosures made by the company, with research from the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative quantifying that that the risk of non-disclosure is a bigger liability for the company than of disclosure itself.

Meanwhile, during the 2019 proxy season shareholder activists pressed disclosure resolutions including climate risk at no fewer than 64 company AGMs in the US alone.

An opportunity for leadership

The summit heard TCFD reporting is being adopted by companies valued at a combined market capitalisation of $118trn—an important challenge to organisations that have not yet made the shift.

Already we know that climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company. Failure to do so could expose directors to legal challenge.

But the action required is now clear. The board should ensure that material climate-related risks and opportunities are not simply reported, but fully integrated in to the company’s strategy, risk-management process and investment decisions.

Climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company

Among the actions required are ensuring board and committee structures incorporate climate risk and opportunity; recruitment of new directors with the requisite knowledge and skills; incorporating management of climate risk into executive remuneration; and fully integrating it in the company’s own risk management.

Board members must provide the leadership for the company to engage with relevant experts and stakeholders to tackle the challenge, and should ensure they are sufficiently informed themselves to maintain adequate oversight.

Lastly, boards should recognise that climate risk may involve addressing timescales beyond conventional board terms, but are within mainstream investment and planning horizons accorded to every other financial risk and opportunity.

A board responsibility

The summit underlined how existing TCFD reporting is still falling short of being decision-useful, in demonstrating strategic resilience of the company and in incorporating targets for transition to net zero.

It also enabled further discussion of the measurements required for reporting, including clarifying what is green revenue, and the definition of terms such as “environmentally sustainable”.

But as work from the Corporate Reporting Dialogue shows, almost all of the necessary indicators are already available in existing frameworks. It is not whether they are available, but how they are used.

Ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself

Plentiful assistance for board members is on hand through online resources like the TCFD Knowledge Hub organised by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, training offered by organisations such as Competent Boards, or detailed guidance for specific sectors through specific TCFD preparer forums.

But ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself. Every company board has its own responsibility to consider where its own business model stands in relation to that transition.

And with finance ministries, central banks and regulators in the top 20 economies of the world concluding that climate change is a risk to the stability of the entire global financial system, no company can ignore this task.

______________________________

Richard Howitt is a strategic adviser on corporate responsibility and sustainability, and former CEO at the International Integrated Reporting Council.

Gouvernance des TI | une formation essentielle pour outiller les administrateurs de sociétés


Le Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS) offre des formations spécialisées en gouvernance. C’est le cas pour la formation en gouvernance des technologies de l’information (TI) qui sera offerte à Québec le 24 mars 2020.

Il est bien connu que les administrateurs doivent être mieux outillés pour prendre des décisions dans ce domaine en pleine révolution.

En tant que membre d’un CA, c’est votre devoir de vous assurer d’avoir un minimum de connaissances en TI.

La présentation ci-dessous vous donne tous les détails pertinents pour vous inscrire ; ou pour réfléchir à l’idée d’améliorer vos connaissances en gouvernance des TI.

Formation Gouvernance des TI

Obtenez des assises solides pour gouverner les TI

Serait-il acceptable que des administrateurs ne s’intéressent pas aux éléments financiers sous prétexte qu’ils ne sont pas des comptables professionnels agréés ? Il en va de même pour les TI. Les administrateurs doivent s’intéresser à la question et prendre part aux débats.

Cette formation de haut niveau vise à réhabiliter les administrateurs, les chefs d’entreprise, les hauts dirigeants et les investisseurs en leur donnant des assises solides pour bien gouverner les technologies de l’information et contribuer ainsi au processus de création de valeur.

Consultez le dépliant de la formation Gouvernance des TI

 

Formatrice

Mme Paule-Anne Morin, ASC, C. Dir., Adm.A., CMC

Consultante et administratrice de sociétés

Biographie [+]

 

Clientèle cible

 

Membres de conseils d’administration

Hauts dirigeants

Gestionnaires

Investisseurs

 

Admissibilité

 

Correspondre à la clientèle cible.

Aucun préalable universitaire n’est requis.

Prochaines sessions de formation

 

22 octobre 2019, à QuébecInscription en ligne

24 mars 2020, à Montréal
Inscription en ligne

 

Objectifs

 

        1. Comprendre les quatre rôles des administrateurs en regard de la gouvernance des TI
        2. Connaître les informations requises pour pouvoir s’acquitter de ces rôles
        3. Outiller les administrateurs afin qu’ils soient des acteurs engagés dans la gouvernance des TI
        4. Réfléchir et échanger entre administrateurs et hauts dirigeants sur les sujets reliés aux technologies de l’information

Thèmes abordés

 

        1. La gouvernance des TI par les conseils d’administration : devoirs et obligations
        2. Stratégie et alignement des TI
        3. Surveillance de la performance des TI
        4. Gestion des risques en TI
        5. Modalités de gouvernance des TI par les conseils d’administration

Conversation avec une administratrice – la gouvernance des TI dans l’action

 

La journée de formation se termine sur un échange avec une administratrice pour aborder son point de vue sur les particularités de la gouvernance des TI, les défis rencontrés et les éléments à prendre en considération. Elle abordera entre autres les particularités de la gouvernance des TI, les défis rencontrés et les éléments à prendre en considération pour assurer une meilleure gouvernance des TI.

Session de Québec – Administratrice invitée

Lyne Bouchard, professeure agrégéeDirectrice de l’Observatoire de gouvernance des technologies de l’informationVice-rectrice aux ressources humaines de l’Université Laval

Mme Lyne Bouchard compte plus de vingt années d’expérience dans le monde des affaires et des technologies de l’information, ainsi qu’en recherche et en enseignement universitaires. Elle a notamment été directrice pour l’est du Canada des programmes pour dirigeants chez Gartner, présidente directrice générale de TechnoMontréal et chef de la stratégie chez Fujitsu Canada/DMR. Madame Bouchard a siégé à plusieurs conseils et siège actuellement au conseil de la SAQ et au comité de la gestion des risques du Fonds de solidarité FTQ.

 

Anne-Marie Croteau, ASC

Session de Montréal – Administratrice invitée

Anne-Marie Croteau, ASCDoyenne de l’École de gestion John-Molson (JMSB), Université Concordia

En plus d’être doyenne de l’École de gestion John Molson de l’Université de Concordia, Mme Anne-Marie Croteau siège à de nombreux conseils d’administration dont celui d’Hydro-Québec où elle est vice-présidente du Comité des affaires financières, projets et technologies. Elle siège aussi au conseil d’administration de la Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec où elle préside le Comité des technologies de l’information.

Environnement numérique et matériel en ligne

Cette formation spécialisée est réalisée en collaboration avec l’Observatoire en gouvernance des technologies de l’information (OGTI) de la Faculté des sciences de l’administration de l’Université Laval.

Reconnaissance professionnelle

 

Cette formation, d’une durée de 7,5 heures, est reconnue aux fins des règlements ou des politiques de formation continue obligatoire des ordres et organismes professionnels suivants : Barreau du Québec, Ordre des ADMA du Québec, Ordre des CPA du Québec, Ordre des CRHA et Association des MBA du Québec.

Frais d’inscription, modalités de paiement, annulation

Les critères de benchmarking d’ISS eu égard aux guides de saine gouvernance


Les auteurs* de cet article, paru dans le Forum du Harvard Law School, présentent les résultats d’un survey sur quatre grandes dimensions de la gouvernance des sociétés cotées.

Les sujets touchent :

(1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding;

(2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role;

(3) compensation ; and

(4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.

Les points importants à retenir de cet article sont indiqués en bleu dans le sommaire.

Bonne lecture !

ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « ISS 2019 Benchmark Policy Survey—Key Findings »

 

[On Sept. 11, 2019], Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) announced the results of its 2019 Global Policy Survey (a.k.a. ISS 2019 Benchmark Policy Survey) based on respondents including investors, public company executives and company advisors. ISS will use these results to inform its policies for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020. ISS expects to solicit comments in the latter half of October 2019 on its draft policy updates and release its final policies in mid-November 2019.

While the survey included questions targeting both global and designated geographic markets, the key questions affecting the U.S. markets fell into the following categories: (1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding; (2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role; (3) compensation; and (4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure. We previously provided an overview of the survey questions.

The ISS report distinguishes responses from investors versus non-investors. Investors primarily include asset managers, asset owners, and institutional investor advisors. In contrast, non-investors mainly comprise public company executives, public company board members, and public company advisors.

Key Takeaways

Only 128 investors and 268 non-investors (85% were corporate executives) participated in the survey. While the results overall are not surprising for the survey questions relating to board diversity, overboarding, inclusion of GAAP metrics for comparison in compensation-related reports and climate change matters, the level of support for multi-class structures with sunsets was surprisingly high.

Summary

1. Board Composition/Accountability

a. Board Gender Diversity Including Mitigating Factors for Zero Women on Boards: Both investors (61%) and non-investors (55%) indicated that board gender diversity is an essential attribute of effective board governance regardless of the company or its market. Among respondents who do not believe diversity is essential, investors tended to favor a market-by-market approach and non-investors tended to favor an analysis conducted at the company level.

Another question elicited views on ISS’s diversity policy that will be effective in 2020. Under the new policy, ISS will recommend voting against the nominating committee chair (or other members as appropriate) at Russell 3000 and/or S&P 1500 companies that do not have at least one female director. Before ISS issues a negative recommendation on this basis, ISS intends to consider mitigating factors.

The survey questioned what other mitigating factors a respondent would consider besides a company’s providing a firm commitment to appointing a woman in the near-term and having recently had a female on the board. The survey provided the following three choices and invited respondents to check all that apply: (1) the Rooney Rule, which involves a commitment to including females in the pool of new director candidates; (2) a commitment to actively searching for a female director; and (3) other.

Results show that investors were more likely than non-investors to answer that no other mitigating factors should be considered (46% of the investors compared to 28% of the non-investors) besides a recent former female director or a firm commitment to appoint a woman. With regard to willingness to consider mitigating factors, 57 investors and 141 non-investors checked at least one answer. More non-investors found a company’s observance of the Rooney Rule to be a mitigating factor worth considering (selected by 113 non-investors) than the company’s commitment to conduct an active search (selected by 85 non-investors). These two factors were each selected by 34 investors.

b. Director Overboarding: The survey responses show investors and non-investors appear to hold diverging positions on director overboarding. On a plurality basis, investors (42%) preferred a maximum of four total board seats for non-executive directors while they (45%) preferred a maximum of two board seats (including the “home” board) for CEOs. In comparison, on a plurality basis, about one third of non-investors preferred to leave the determination to the board’s discretion for both non-executive directors and CEOs.

2. Board/Capital Structure

a. Multi-Class Structures and Sunset Provisions: Results reveal that 55% of investors and 47% of non-investors found a seven-year maximum sunset provision appropriate for a multi-class structure. Among respondents who indicated that a maximum seven-year sunset provision was inappropriate, 36% of non-investors replied that a longer sunset (10 years or more) was appropriate and 35% of investors objected to any form of multi-class structure.

b. Independent Chair: Currently, ISS generally supports shareholder proposals that request an independent board chair after taking into consideration a wide variety of factors such as the company’s financial practices, governance structure and governance practices. ISS asked participants to indicate which factors the respondent considers and listed factors for respondents to choose from, such as a weak or poorly defined lead director role, governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders, lack of board refreshment or board diversity, and poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns. Respondents were instructed to check all that applied.

The results unsurprisingly suggest that investors prefer an independent board chair more than non-investors. Investors chose poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns most often whereas non-investors selected the factor relating to a weak or poorly defined lead director role.

Investors’ second highest selection was governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders (such as a classified board, plurality vote standard, lack of ability to call special meetings and lack of a proxy access right). For non-investors, poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns was the second highest selection.

3. Compensation

a. Economic Value Added (EVA) and GAAP Metrics: Beginning in 2019, ISS research reports for the U.S. and Canadian markets started to include additional information on company performance using an EVA-based framework. Survey results showed that a strong majority of respondents still want GAAP metrics to be provided in the research reports as a means of comparison.

4. Climate Change Risk Oversight & Disclosure

a. Disclosures and Actions Relating to Climate Change Risk: The ISS survey asked respondents whether climate change should be given a high priority in companies’ risk assessments. ISS questioned whether all companies should be assessing and disclosing their climate-related risks and taking actions to mitigate them where possible.

Results show that 60% of investors answered that all companies should be assessing and disclosing climate-related risks and taking mitigating actions where possible. Roughly one third of investors indicated that “each company’s appropriate level of disclosure and action will depend on a variety of factors including its own business model, its industry sector, where and how it operates, and other company-specific factors and board members.” In addition, 5% of investors thought the possible risks related to climate change are often too uncertain to incorporate into a company-specific risk assessment model.

b. Shareholder Action in Response to a Company’s Failure to Report or Mitigate Climate Change Risk: Investors and non-investors indicated that the most appropriate actions to consider when a company fails to effectively report or address its climate change risk are (a) engaging with the company, and (b) voting for a shareholder proposal seeking increased climate-related disclosure.

 


*Betty Moy Huber is counsel and Paula H. Simpkins is an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats | En reprise


Voici un article publié par GAVIN HINKS pour le compte de Board Agenda qui montre que les grandes firmes d’audit sont de plus en plus susceptibles de démissionner lorsque les risques leur apparaissent trop élevés.

Les recherches indiquent que c’est particulièrement le cas au Royaume-Uni où l’on assiste à des poursuites plus fréquentes des Big Four. Ces firmes d’audit sont maintenant plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs clients.

Compte tenu de la situation oligopolistique des grandes firmes d’audit, devons-nous nous surprendre de ces décisions de retrait dans la nouvelle conjoncture de risque financier des entreprises britanniques ?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

Le comité d’audit des entreprises est interpellé publiquement lorsque l’auditeur soumet sa résignation. L’entreprise doit souvent gérer une crise médiatique afin de sauvegarder sa réputation.

Pour certains experts de la gouvernance, ces situations requirent des exigences de divulgation plus sévères. Les parties prenantes veulent connaître la nature des problèmes et des risques qui y sont associés.

Également, les administrateurs souhaitent connaître le plan d’action des dirigeants eu égard au travail et aux recommandations du comité d’audit

L’auteur donne beaucoup d’exemples sur les nouveaux comportements des Big Four.

Bonne lecture !

 

Auditor resignations indicate new attitude to client selection

 

 

auditor
Image: Shutterstock

 

The audit profession in Britain is at a turning point as Westminster—Brexit permitting—considers new regulation.

It seems firms may be responding by clearing the decks: the press has spotted a spate of high-profile auditor resignations with audit firms bidding farewell to a clutch of major clients. This includes firms outside the Big Four, such as Grant Thornton, which recently said sayonara to Sports Direct, the retail chain, embroiled in running arguments over its governance.

But Grant Thornton is not alone. KPMG has parted ways with Eddie Stobart, a haulage firm, and Lycamobile, a telecommunications company. PwC meanwhile has said goodbye to Staffline, a recruitment business.

Should we be surprised?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

This came to a head in December 2017 with the collapse of construction and contracting giant Carillion, audited by KPMG. The event prompted a parliamentary inquiry followed by government-ordered reviews of the audit market and regulation.

An examination of the watchdog for audit and financial reporting, the Financial Reporting Council, has resulted in the creation of a brand new regulatory body; a look at the audit market resulted in recommendations that firms separate their audit businesses from other services they provide. A current look at the quality and scope of audit, the Brydon review, will doubtless come up with its own recommendations when it reports later this year.

 

Client selection

 

While it is hard to obtain statistics, the press reports, as well as industry talk, indicate that auditors are becoming more picky about who they choose to work for.

According to Jonathan Hayward, a governance and audit expert with the consultancy Independent Audit, the first step in any risk management for an audit firm is client selection. He says the current environment in which auditors have become “tired of being beaten up” has caused a new “sensitivity” in which auditors may be choosing to be more assiduous in applying client filtering policies.

Application of these policies may have been soft in the past, as firms raced for market share, but perhaps also as they applied what Hayward calls the auditor’s “God complex”: the idea that their judgement must be definitive.

Psychological dispositions are arguable. What may be observed for certain is that the potential downsides are becoming clearer to audit chiefs. Fines meted out in recent times by a newly energised regulator facing replacement include the £5m (discounted to £3.5m) for KPMG for the firm’s work with the London branch of BNY Mellon. Deloitte faced a £6.5m fine (discounted to £4.2m) for its audit of Serco Geografix, an outsourcing business. Last year PwC faced a record breaking £10m penalty for its work on the audit of collapsed retailer BHS.

What those fines have brought home is the thin line auditors tread between profit and and huge costs if it goes wrong. That undermines the attractiveness of being in the audit market.

One expert to draw attention to the economics is Jim Peterson, a US lawyer who blogs on corporate law and has represented accountancy firms.

Highlighting Sports Direct’s need to find a replacement audit firm, Peterson notes Grant Thornton’s fee was £1.4m with an estimated profit of £200,000-£250,000.

“A projection from that figure would be hostage, however, to the doubtful assumption of no further developments,” Peterson writes.

“That is, the cost to address even a modest extension of necessary extra audit work, or a lawsuit or investigative inquiry—legal fees and diverted management time alone—would swamp any engagement profit within weeks.”

He adds: “And that’s without thinking of the potential fines or judgements. Could the revenue justify that risk? No fee can be set and charged that would protect an auditor in the fraught context of Sports Direct—simply impossible.”

Media attention

 

Auditor resignations are not without their own risks. Maggie McGhee, executive director, governance at ACCA, a professional body for accountants, points out that parting with a client can bring unpleasant public attention.

“If auditors use resignation more regularly in a bid to extract themselves from high-risk audits,” says McGhee, “then it is probable that there will be some media interest if issues are subsequently identified at the company. Questions arise, such as did the auditor do enough?”

But as, McGhee adds, resignation has to remain part of the auditor’s armoury, not least as part of maintaining their independence.

For non-executives on an audit committee, auditor resignation is a significant moment. With an important role in hiring an audit firm as well as oversight of company directors, their role will be to challenge management.

“The audit committee is critical in these circumstances,” says McGhee, “and it should take action to understand the circumstance and whether action is required.”

ACCA has told the Sir Donald Brydon review [examining audit quality] that greater disclosure is needed of “the communication and judgements” that pass between auditors and audit committees. McGhee says it would be particularly relevant in the case of auditor resignations.

There have been suggestions that Sir Donald is interested in resignations. ShareSoc and UKSA, bodies representing small shareholders, have called on Sir Donald to recommend that an a regulatory news service announcement be triggered by an auditor cutting ties.

A blog on ShareSoc’s website says: “It seems clear that there is a need to tighten the disclosure rules surrounding auditor resignations and dismissals.”

It seems likely Sir Donald will comment on resignations, though what his recommendations will be remains uncertain. What is clear is that recent behaviour has shone a light on auditor departures and questions are being asked. The need for answers is sure to remain.

En reprise | Comment les firmes de conseil en votation évaluent-elles les efforts des entreprises eu égard à leur gestion environnementale et sociale ?


Les auteurs* de cet article expliquent en des termes très clairs le sens que les firmes de conseil en votation Glass Lewis et ISS donnent aux risques environnementaux et sociaux associés aux pratiques de gouvernance des entreprises publiques (cotées).

Il est vrai que l’on parle de ESG (en anglais) ou de RSE (en français) sans donner de définition explicite de ces concepts.

Ici, on montre comment les firmes spécialisées en conseils aux investisseurs mesurent les dimensions sous-jacentes à ces expressions.

Les administrateurs de sociétés ont tout intérêt à connaître sur quoi ces firmes se basent pour évaluer la qualité des efforts de leur entreprise en matière de gestion environnementale et de considérations sociales.

J’espère que vous apprécierez ce court extrait paru sur le Forum du Harvard Law School.

Bonne lecture !

 

 

Glass Lewis, ISS, and ESG

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « esg »

 

With some help from leading investor groups like Black Rock and T. Rowe Price, environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) issues, once the sole purview of specialist investors and activist groups, are increasingly working their way into the mainstream for corporate America. For some boards, conversations about ESG are nothing new. For many directors, however, the increased emphasis on the subject creates some consternation, in part because it’s not always clear what issues properly fall under the ESG umbrella. E, S, and G can mean different things to different people—not to mention the fact that some subjects span multiple categories. How do boards know what it is that they need to know? Where should boards be directing their attention?

A natural starting place for directors is to examine the guidelines published by the leading proxy advisory firms ISS and Glass Lewis. While not to be held up as a definitive prescription for good governance practices, the stances adopted by both advisors can provide a window into how investors who look to these organizations for guidance are thinking about the subject.

 

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)

 

In February of 2018, ISS launched an Environmental & Social Quality Score which they describe as “a data-driven approach to measuring the quality of corporate disclosures on environmental and social issues, including sustainability governance, and to identify key disclosure omissions.”

To date, their coverage focuses on approximately 4,700 companies across 24 industries they view “as being most exposed to E&S risks, including: Energy, Materials, Capital Goods, Transportation, Automobiles & Components, and Consumer Durables & Apparel.” ISS believes that the extent to which companies disclose their practices and policies publicly, as well as the quality of a company’s disclosure on their practices, can be an indicator of ESG performance. This view is not unlike that espoused by Black Rock, who believes that a lack of ESG disclosure beyond what is legally mandated often necessitates further research.

Below is a summary of how ISS breaks down E, S, & G. Clearly the governance category includes topics familiar to any public company board.

 

iss-esg-quality-score-table

 

ISS’ E&S scoring is based on answers to over 380 individual questions which ISS analysts attempt to answer for each covered company based on disclosed data. The majority of the questions in the ISS model are applied to all industry groups, and all of them are derived from third-party lists or initiatives, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The E&S Quality Score measures the company’s level of environmental and social disclosure risk, both overall and specific to the eight broad categories listed in the table above. ISS does not combine ES&G into a single score, but provides a separate E&S score that stands alongside the governance score.

These disclosure risk scores, similar to the governance scores companies have become accustomed to seeing each year, are scaled from 1 to 10 with lower scores indicating a lower level of risk relative to industry peers. For example, a score of 2 indicates that a company has lower risk than 80% of its industry peers.

 

Glass Lewis

 

Glass Lewis uses data and ratings from Sustainalytics, a provider of ESG research, in the ESG Profile section of their standard Proxy Paper reports for large cap companies or “in instances where [they] identify material oversight issues.” Their stated goal is to provide summary data and insights that can be used by Glass Lewis clients as part of their investment decision-making, including aligning proxy voting and engagement practices with ESG risk management considerations.

The Glass Lewis evaluation, using Sustainalytics guidelines, rates companies on a matrix which weighs overall “ESG Performance” against the highest level of “ESG Controversy.” Companies who are leaders in terms of ESG practices (or disclosure) have a higher threshold for triggering risk in this model.

 

glass-lewis-risk-model-chart

 

The evaluation model also notes that some companies involved in particular product areas are naturally deemed higher risk, including adult entertainment, alcoholic beverages, arctic drilling, controversial weapons, gambling, genetically modified plants and seeds, oil sands, pesticides, thermal coal, and tobacco.

Conclusion

 

ISS and Glass Lewis guidelines can help provide a basic structure for starting board conversations about ESG. For most companies, the primary focus is on transparency, in other words how clearly are companies disclosing their practices and philosophies regarding ESG issues in their financial filings and on their corporate websites? When a company has had very public environmental or social controversies—and particularly when those issues have impacted shareholder value—advisory firm evaluations of corporate transparency may also impact voting recommendations on director elections or related shareholder proposals.

Pearl Meyer does not expect the advisory firms’ ESG guidelines to have much, if any, bearing on compensation-related recommendations or scorecards in the near term. In the long term, however, we do think certain hot-button topics will make their way from the ES&G scorecard to the compensation scorecard. This shift will likely happen sooner in areas where ESG issues are more prominent, such as those specifically named by Glass Lewis.

We are recommending that organizations take the time to examine any ESG issues relevant to their business and understand how those issues may be important to stakeholders on a proactive basis, perhaps adding ESG policies to the list of sunny day shareholder outreach topics after this year’s proxy season. This does take time and effort, but better that than to find out about a nagging ESG issue through activist activity or a negative voting recommendation from ISS or Glass Lewis.

 

References

1. https://www.issgovernance.com/iss-announces-launch-of-environmental-social-qualityscore-corporate-profiling-solution/

2. https://www.glasslewis.com/understanding-esg-content/

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* David Bixby is managing director and Paul Hudson is principal at Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC. This post is based on a Pearl Meyer memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Social Responsibility Resolutions by Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).