Last week the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new Rule 10D-1 that would direct national securities exchanges and associations to establish listing standards requiring companies to adopt, enforce and disclose policies to clawback excess incentive-based compensation from executive officers.
- Covered Securities Issuers. With limited exceptions for issuers of certain securities and unit investment trusts (UITs), the Proposed Rule 10D-1 would apply to all listed companies, including emerging growth companies, smaller reporting companies, foreign private issuers and controlled companies. Registered management investment companies would be subject to the requirements of the Proposed Rule only to the extent they had awarded incentive-based compensation to executive officers in any of the last three fiscal years.
- Covered Officers. The Proposed Rule would apply to current and former Section 16 officers, which includes a company’s president, principal financial officer, principal accounting officer (or if none, the controller), any vice-president in charge of a principal business unit, division or function, and any other officer or person who performs policy-making functions for the company. Executive officers of a company’s parent or subsidiary would be covered officers to the extent they perform policy making functions for the company.
- Triggering Event. Under the Proposed Rule, the clawback policies would be triggered each time the company is required to prepare a restatement to correct one or more errors that are material to previously issued financial statements and would be applied to covered officers even in the absence of any misconduct. Changes to a company’s financial statements that arise for reasons other than to correct an error (g., change in accounting principles, revision for stock splits and adjustments to provisional amounts related to a prior business combination) would not trigger any required recovery action.
- Three-Year Lookback. A company would be required to recover excess incentive-based compensation received by covered officers within the three completed fiscal years prior to the date the company is required to prepare the accounting restatement. Under the Proposed Rule 10D-1, an accounting restatement would be treated as required on the earlier of: (1) the date the company concludes or reasonably should have concluded that its previously issued financial statements contain a material error; or (2) the date a court, regulator or other authorized body directs the company to restate a previously issued financial statement to correct a material error. For example, if a company that operates on a calendar year determines in November 2018 that a previously issued financial statement contains a material error and files the restated financial statements in January 2019, the recovery policy would apply to all excess incentive-based compensation received by covered officers in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
- Incentive-Based Compensation. Under the Proposed Rule, incentive-based compensation is any compensation that is granted, earned or becomes vested (in whole or in part) due to the achievement of any financial reporting measure (g., revenue, operating income and EBITDA) or performance measures based on stock price and total shareholder return. Incentive-based compensation generally would not include salary, discretionary bonus payments, time-based equity awards, non-equity awards based on achievement of a strategic measure (e.g., consummation of a merger) or operational measures (e.g., completion of a project) or bonus pool awards where the size of the pool is not based on satisfaction of a financial reporting measure performance goal. However, if a covered officer earns a salary increase based (in whole or in part) on the attainment of a financial reporting measure, the increase could be considered a non-equity incentive plan award and subject to recovery under the Proposed Rule 10D-1.
For purposes of applying the three-year lookback period, incentive-based compensation would be deemed received in the fiscal period during which the financial reporting measure specified in the incentive-based compensation award is attained, even if the payment or grant occurs after the end of that period. Consequently, the date of receipt would depend upon the terms of the award. For example, if an award is granted based on satisfaction of a financial reporting measure, the award would be deemed received in the fiscal period when that measure was satisfied. However, if an equity award vests upon satisfaction of a financial reporting measure, the award would be deemed received in the fiscal period when it vests. Any ministerial acts or other conditions necessary to effect issuance or payment (e.g., calculating earned amounts or obtaining board of approval) would not be determinative of the date the incentive-based compensation is received by the covered officer.
- Determining Recoverable Amount. The amount subject to recovery would be the amount of incentive-based compensation received by a covered officer that exceeds the amount the officer would have received had the incentive-based compensation been determined based on the accounting restatement. Although the Proposed Rule does not specify a means of recovery, it does offer guidelines for determining the recoverable amount under different types of incentive-based compensation arrangements.
- Cash Bonus Pool Awards. The company would reduce the size of the aggregate bonus pool based on the restated financial reporting measure and if the reduced bonus pool is less than the aggregate amount of individual bonuses received from it, the excess amount of an individual bonus would be the pro rata portion of the deficiency. If the aggregate reduced bonus pool would have been sufficient to cover the individual bonuses received from it, then no recovery would be required.
- Equity Awards. The method of recovering equity awards would depend on the status of the award. With respect to shares, options or SARs still held by the covered officer at the time of recovery, the recoverable amount would be the number received in excess of the number that should have been received applying the restated financial reporting measure. If the options or SARs have been exercised but the covered officer still holds the underlying shares, the recoverable amount would be the number of shares underlying the excess options or SARs applying the restated financial measure. However, if the shares have been sold, the recoverable amount would be the sale proceeds received by the covered officer on the excess number of shares. In all situations, the covered officer’s payment of any applicable exercise price would be taken into account.
- Nonqualified Deferred Compensation. The covered officer’s account balance or distributions would be reduced by the excess incentive-based compensation contributed to the nonqualified deferred compensation plan and any interest or earnings accrued thereon. In addition, for retirement benefits under pension plans, the excess incentive-based compensation would be deducted from the benefit formula, and any related distributions would be recoverable.
- Exceptions to Recovery. Proposed Rule 10D-1 provides for two limited exceptions to recovery.
- Impracticable Recovery. Recovery would not be required if determined by the company’s committee of independent directors (or in the absence of such a committee by a majority of the independent board members) to be impracticable because the direct costs of recovery would exceed the amount subject to recovery. However, before concluding that recovery would be impracticable, the company must make a reasonable attempt at recovery and furnish the exchange with documentation of its efforts. This and all other determinations made by a company under Proposed Rule would be subject to review by the listing exchange.
- Violation of Home Country Law. Recovery also would not be required if it would violate the company’s home country law; however, the company would be required to obtain an opinion of home country counsel (acceptable to the applicable national securities exchange or association) that recovery would result in such a violation. In an effort to deter countries from changing their laws in response to this exception, the Proposed Rule would limit application of this exception only to laws adopted prior to the date of publication of the Proposed Rule in the Federal Register.
Under either exception, a company would be required to disclose why it decided not to pursue recovery of the excess incentive-based compensation.
- Prohibited Indemnification or Reimbursement. A company would be prohibited from mitigating or otherwise entering into an arrangement designed to avoid or nullify the effect of any required recovery, including indemnifying a covered officer against the loss of excess incentive-based compensation or paying or reimbursing the officer for the purchase of an individual third-party insurance policy to fund potential recovery obligations.
- Disclosure Obligations. The recovery policies would be a required exhibit to the company’s annual report on Form 10-K. Additional disclosures would be required in the company’s annual report and any proxy and consent solicitation materials requiring executive compensation disclosure if at any time during its last completed fiscal year the company either prepared an accounting restatement that required recovery action or had an outstanding balance of excess incentive-based compensation. The SEC also proposes requiring a company to make the appropriate amendment to the Summary Compensation Table for the fiscal year in which the amount recovered was initially reported and be identified by footnote.
- What’s Next. The Proposed Rule is subject to a 60-day comment period following its publication in the Federal Register. The SEC is soliciting comments on virtually every aspect of the Proposed Rule so the final version of the rule could possibly reflect significant changes. Exchanges will have 90 days after the adopted version of Rule 10D-1 is published in the Federal Register to file its proposed listing rules, which must be effective no later than one year following that publication date.
Listed companies must adopt recovery policies within 60 days after the exchanges’ rules become effective and begin enforcing such policies on all incentive-based compensation received by covered officers (current and former) as a result of satisfaction of a financial reporting measure based on financial information for any fiscal period ending on or after the effective date of Rule 10D-1. Failure to adopt and enforce the required recovery policies would subject a company to delisting.