Voting on Equity Plan Proposals

Is it Better to Propose a New Omnibus Plan or to Amend an Existing Omnibus Plan?

I am often asked whether it is better to ask shareholders to approve an amendment of an existing omnibus plan or a completely new omnibus plan. Generally, there is not too much difference since you can make the amendments ensure that the existing omnibus plan complies with current corporate governance best practices.  But, in point of fact, there is a slight difference when I look at the voting for proposals to amend an existing plan versus to approve a new plan.

Mind you, the difference is not all that much.  But for companies that are looking to do everything possible to ensure a favorable vote outcome, then serious thought should be given to adopting a new omnibus plan since such proposals receive higher levels of voting support.  That said, the median level of vote support for proposals to amend an existing omnibus plan are slightly higher than the median support for proposals to approve a new omnibus plan.  But this is offset by the fact that proposals to approve new omnibus plans have more votes coming in at or above the 90% level.

The charts below look at the vote support at median and average and by support level for both of these proposals using data from the ISS Voting Analytics database for S&P 500 companies with such proposals in 2015, 2016 and in 2017 so far.

Source: ISS Voting Analytics database

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ISS Policy Updates for 2017

ISS has announced several updates for its policies for 2017 (generally apply starting February 1, 2017 unless otherwise noted). Initially, ISS departed from past practice of announcing all annual policy updates at the same time when it issued an update with respect to its pay for performance policy on November 8, 2016 and then followed this up with its “normal” annual policy updates on November 21, 2016.

Pay for Performance Updates

ISS announced that in its 2017 pay for performance analyses (typically undertaken as part of ISS’ evaluation of a company’s say-on-pay proposal), it will add six relative quantitative performance metrics to its qualitative analysis. The six metrics are: relative ROIC, ROA, ROE, revenue growth, EBITDA growth, and growth in cash flow from operations — all evaluated over a three year period relative to the ISS peers for a company and presented in a table included in the qualitative portion of its pay for performance analysis. ISS may later include these six performance metrics in the quantitative analysis section of its pay for performance analysis — perhaps for the 2018 proxy season. I think we can expect that 2017 will be a year for ISS to learn how investors and companies think of the six performance metrics being disclosed in addition to TSR which ISS has included in its reports for many years.

ISS has indicated that the weight afforded each of these six metrics will vary by industry, though it did not release what those weights will be. I expect ISS will release a set of FAQs with the industry weights if it follows what it has done with other policies.

I expect these six performance metrics will play a factor in ISS’s analysis of situations where the current quantitative screens show a medium or high concern level. So if a company expects it will garner such concern levels under the current ISS quantitative tests, it should see how it fares against its expected ISS peers on these six performance metrics.  I expect companies could be in for a tougher time from ISS if they score below median in several of these six performance metrics, with greater importance of a below median score attached to those metrics carrying the greatest weight.

Finally, ISS announced that the Relative Degree of Alignment (RDA) test (one of the quantitative tests under the ISS pay for performance analysis).

Peer Group Submission

ISS also announced that its peer group submission window will run from November 28 to December 9. Companies that made changes to their peer group for 2016 should consider providing their updated peer group to ISS in order to ensure that ISS uses the company’s 2016 peer group in its analysis.  If a company does not submit a new peer group during the peer group submission window, ISS will use the existing peer group it has on file (which should be the 2015 peer group for most companies).

For more information about the ISS Pay for Performance Update and the Peer Group Submission, see this ISS press release (November 8, 2016): https://www.issgovernance.com/iss-announces-pay-performance-methodology-updates-2017/

 

Compensation-Related 2017 Policy Updates

ISS announced updates to its Equity Plan Scorecard Policy and a new policy with respect to proposal seeking to ratify director compensation.

Equity Plan Scorecard (EPSC) Policy Updates

When the proposal includes amendments to an equity plan:

  • If this includes a transfer of shareholder value to employees, ISS will supplement its EPSC with an overall impact of the proposed amendments.
  • ISS will now add a new factor under Plan Features that will weigh on the total points the proposal will receive under the EPSC policy — whether the plan prohibits the payment of dividends on unvested equity awards (though this factor will permit plans to receive full points if they accrue the dividends until the underlying award is vested/earned).
  • For the minimum vesting factor under Plan Features, ISS will only give credit if the plan contains a minimum 1 year vesting period that applies to all awards, which cannot be varied in an award agreement, except for up to 5% of the plan’s share authorization.
  • For proposals to amend non-employee director equity plans, ISS is expanding the qualitative factors that it can evaluate when the proposal exceeds the applicable shareholder value transfer or burn rate benchmarks, in keeping with its new policy on director pay ratification proposals.

As in years past, ISS likely will issue FAQs on the EPSC policy to take into account these updates prior to the next proxy season — perhaps in December or January.

Equity Proposals Submitted Only for 162(m) Approval

ISS clarified that proposals seeking shareholder approval of performance metrics in a cash incentive plan or equity plan for Section 162(m) purposes only will be evaluated on the basis of the compensation committee members’ independence.

Management Proposals Seeking Ratification of Director Compensation

ISS also announced a new policy with respect to proposals seeking ratification of director compensation. ISS will evaluate eight qualitative factors with respect to the magnitude, structure, and disclosure of director compensation. ISS will review the magnitude of director compensation relative to similar companies.

Other 2017 ISS Policy Updates

ISS released a number of additional policy updates for 2017 covering director elections, capital authorizations, and cross-market company policies.

For U.S. domestic issuers organized abroad, ISS will base its recommendations on say-on-pay proposals required by a foreign jurisdiction on ISS’ U.S. say-on-pay policy.

The updates to ISS policies for 2017 can be found in this press release (November 21, 2016):

ISS Announces 2017 Benchmark Policy Updates

as well as on the ISS policy gateway that has links to all the 2017 policy updates:

2017 Policy Information

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SEC Proposes to Eliminate Equity Compensation Plan Information Table

According to this BNA blog (http://www.bna.com/sec-proposal-end-b73014445191/), the SEC has proposed to eliminate the Regulation S-K, Item 201(d) disclosure, i.e., the Equity Compensation Plan Information Table that is included in the proxy or annual report depending on whether a compensation plan is being put to shareholder vote.  This table provides the outstanding and available shares for shareholder approved and non-shareholder approved equity compensation plans, as well as weighted average exercise price for the outstanding equity awards.

The rationale appears to be that given current financial accounting standards, much of this information is now contained in a company’s publicly-filed financial statements.  While that is true to some extent, in my experience, the financial statements are not always the picture of clarity on such disclosure and I believe less information will ultimately be reported about equity plans if this proposal passes.

We will have to watch where this SEC proposal ends up when the final regulations gets issued.

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Speaking at WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference

Ed will be speaking at WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2012 Conference this Wednesday, May 23,2012 from 9:15 to 10:30 am with Bonnie Kelly from Capital One Financial Corporation and Reid Pearson of Alliance Advisors. Their presentation is “Get to Know the Long-Lost Relatives You Never You Had: How to Get to Know Your Shareholders,” which will look at what you can do to get to know your shareholders, what they want, how they are likely to react to certain compensation-related proposals and how your team can help ensure your proposals succeed.

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