On August 5, the SEC adopted a rule requiring public companies to disclose the pay ratio of their CEO to the median compensation of their employees. The rule gives companies some flexibility in the method of determining the pay ratio while providing investors with information to assess the compensation of CEOs. Methods companies may employ to identify the median employee include using (i) a statistical sample of the total employee population; (ii) payroll or tax records that contain a consistently applied compensation measure; or (iii) yearly total compensation as calculated under the existing executive compensation rules. The total compensation for CEOs and total compensation for average employees must be calculated in the same manner. Under the new rule, companies must also disclose the methodology used for identifying the median employee’s annual compensation. Companies will be required to provide disclosure of their pay ratios for their first fiscal year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Smaller reporting companies, emerging growth companies, foreign private issuers, MJDS filers, and registered investment companies are exempt from the pay ratio rule, which will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
CFPB and New York Attorney General File Lawsuit Against Company that Misled 9/11 Heroes Out of Millions of Dollars
On February 7, the CFPB announced that it has—in partnership with the New York Attorney General (NYAG)—filed a complaint in federal district court against a finance company and two affiliates that offer lump-sum advances to consumers entitled to periodic payouts from victim compensation funds or lawsuit settlements. A press release from the NYAG’s Office can be accessed here.
The Bureau and the NYAG claim, among other things, that the defendants misled World Trade Center attack first responders and professional football players in selling expensive advances on benefits to which they were entitled and mischaracterized extensions of credit as assignments of future payment rights, thereby misleading their victims into repaying far more than they received. Specifically, according to the allegations in the complaint, the New Jersey-based companies: (i) used “confusing contracts” to prevent the individuals from understanding the terms and costs of the transactions; (ii) lied to the individuals by telling them the companies could secure their payouts more quickly; (iii) misrepresented how quickly they would receive payments from the companies, and (iv) collected interest at an illegal rate.
These actions, the two regulators argue, constitute violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act ban on unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices, New York usury laws, and other state consumer financial protection laws. The lawsuit seeks to end the company’s illegal practices, obtain relief for the victims, and impose penalties.
On April 29, the SEC voted 3-2 to propose rules that would implement Dodd Frank’s pay-versus-performance provision by requiring companies to disclose the relationship between their financial performance and executive compensation. According to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, the proposed rules “would better inform shareholders and give them a new metric for assessing a company’s executive compensation relative to its financial performance.” All executive officers currently submitting their financials in the summary compensation table must abide by the proposed rules’ disclosure requirements. The rules would require that all reporting companies, except smaller companies, disclose the relevant compensation information for the last five fiscal years; smaller reporting companies will only be required to disclose the information for the past three fiscal years. Foreign private issuers, registered investment companies, and emerging growth companies will be exempt from the relevant Dodd-Frank statutory requirement. The comment period for the proposed rules will be open for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On February 9, the SEC issued a proposed rule implementing Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The rule would require directors, officers, and other employees of public companies to disclose in proxy and information statements whether they use derivatives and other financial instruments to offset or “hedge” against the decline in equity securities granted by the company as compensation, or held, directly or indirectly, by employees or directors. The proposed rule would apply to equity securities of a public company, its parent, subsidiary, or any subsidiary of any parent of the company that is registered with the SEC under Section 12 of the Exchange Act. Public comments will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
On March 4, the UK FCA released the results of its most recent review of sales incentives at retail financial firms. The FCA’s review revealed that retail banks have made progress in changing their financial incentive structures in response to the FCA’s supervisory focus on the issue starting in September 2012, which led to new guidance issued in January 2013. The FCA’s initial focus on the issue derived from its concerns about incentive structures that, among other things, allegedly fueled the sale of payment protection plans and other add-on products. Despite the broad progress, the FCA reports that roughly one in 10 firms with sales teams had higher-risk incentive scheme features where it appeared they were not managing the risk properly at the time of the FCA’s assessment. It believes firms should concentrate on, among other things (i) checking for spikes or trends in the sales patterns of individuals to identify areas of increased risk; (ii) better monitoring behavior in face-to-face sales conversations; and (iii) managing risks in discretionary incentive schemes and balanced scorecards, including the risk that discretion could be misused. The FCA states that given the progress made, it is not proposing any rule changes at this time, but it intends to keep financial incentives on its agenda for 2014.