ISS Releases Preliminary Updates to 2020 Compensation-Related Policies

As we previously discussed, ISS recently released its U.S. Preliminary Compensation Policies FAQ, which provides interested parties an advance view of ISS’ answers to select questions posed to ISS regarding potential changes to its U.S. compensation policies.  Updated compensation-related FAQ documents and a methodological whitepaper—which will include a detailed introduction of ISS’ new Economic Value Added (EVA) metrics—will be available in mid-December.  These changes are effective for meetings held on or after February 1, 2020.  The below summarizes the key changes outlined by the preliminary FAQ.

Changes to the Quantitative Pay-for-Performance Screens for 2020 

ISS applies an initial set of quantitative screens followed by a set of qualitative screens when evaluating say-on-pay proposals. 
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SEC’s Fall 2019 Reg Flex Agenda

The SEC’s 2019 fall agenda of its rulemaking actions under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) has been posted. The agenda, commonly referred to as the “Reg Flex Agenda,” is published semiannually and reflects the actions the Chairman anticipates the SEC will complete in the short term (within a year) and the long term (longer than a year).  As you may recall, Chairman Jay Clayton reduced the number of agenda items roughly two years ago in hopes that the agenda would be viewed more as a transparency and accountability tool of the agency’s initiatives, as opposed to merely aspirational goals.

The RFA mandates that each federal agency semiannually publish in the Federal Register an agenda identifying rules that the agency expects to consider in the next 12 months that are likely to have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.
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SEC Division Communicates No-Action Responses in a New Chart

Yesterday, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance (Staff) announced that it has posted a chart as another channel to publicly communicate its responses to Exchange Act Rule 14a-8 no-action requests.

This development follows the Staff’s announcement that, starting in the 2019-2020 proxy season, it may no longer provide a written response letter to all Rule 14a-8 no-action requests and may provide an oral response instead. The SEC may concur or disagree with the company’s position, or decline to take a view.

The SEC will continue to respond to every request and post responses, including “oral” ones, on its website in the chart.
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ISS Releases Finalized 2020 U.S. Voting Policies, Preliminary Compensation Policies FAQ & Industry Group TSR Medians

Earlier this week, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) posted its U.S. Proxy Voting Guidelines, which include updates we previously discussed. The 2020 policies are effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020.

Also, ISS recently published the U.S. Preliminary Compensation Policies FAQ that is designed to address questions that have been posed to ISS regarding potential changes to its compensation-related policies. Unless the document states otherwise, the methodologies contained in this preliminary FAQ will apply to shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020. ISS anticipates publishing the finalized compensation-related policies and FAQ as well as a methodological whitepaper in December 2019.
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Davis Polk Client Alert: Chamber of Commerce Releases Best Practices for Voluntary ESG Disclosure

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released this month a set of ESG voluntary reporting best practices. By releasing its best practice guide, the Chamber makes clear that it believes further regulatory requirements mandating ESG disclosures are not warranted. A departure from a one-size-fits-all approach, the best practices guide asserts that each company should have the discretion to determine which ESG factors and related metrics are relevant to it without necessarily being tied to the various third-party frameworks and standards currently in existence. Finally, the best practices guide emphasizes that ESG reports need not be incorporated into filings with the SEC, nor should ESG information be required as part of an SEC filing if it is not “material”.
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ISS Releases Final Changes to Its Voting Policies for 2020 Proxy Season – Newly Public Companies, Independent Chair and Share Buyback Proposals, Board Gender Diversity, EVA and More

Today, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) released its 2020 global proxy voting policy updates, which will generally be applicable for shareholder meetings on or after February 1, 2020. Consistent with the preview offered in its proposed 2020 voting policy changes (covered on our blog here), the updates to ISS’ U.S. proxy voting policies apply primarily to the proxy advisory firm’s treatment of (1) certain governance structures at newly public companies, including multi-class shares; and (2) annual meeting proposals calling for independent board chairs and share buybacks.

The updates released today confirm that ISS will include Economic Value Added (or EVA) metrics in its pay-for-performance model’s secondary Financial Performance Assessment (or FPA) screen.
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SEC Investor Advisory Committee Panel on ESG – Data, Disclosure and Materiality

Last Thursday, the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee (IAC) held an open meeting, which included a session to discuss investor use of environmental, social and governance (ESG) data in their investment and capital allocation decisions. During this session, the IAC heard insights from and asked questions of a panel consisting primarily of ESG-focused investors, as well as one academic. The panelists represented investment management firms Neuberger Berman, AllianceBerstein, State Street Global Advisors and Calvert Research and Management, as well as Columbia University’s program in sustainability management.

SEC Chairman’s Written Comments

SEC Chairman Clayton was not in attendance, though he submitted written remarks to the IAC, expressing his views on the matters to be considered at the meeting.
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Glass Lewis 2020 Guidelines Include Director Negative Recommendations Depending on SEC Staff’s Response Under Recently Updated Staff Shareholder Proposal No-Action Letter Policy

Glass Lewis (GL) has recently released its 2020 U.S. proxy season voting guidelines, which contain a few notable developments to consider in preparation for the upcoming proxy season.  These updates include changes related to the exclusion of shareholder proposals and company responsiveness to say-on-pay opposition, among other amendments, all of which are described in the sections that follow.

Exclusion of Shareholder Proposals

In September 2019, the SEC staff announced that it may sometimes respond orally, rather than in writing, to company requests to exclude a shareholder proposal from a proxy statement, and may also decline to state a view altogether (discussed in a Davis Polk Client Alert).
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Spencer Stuart Shows How Boards Are Transforming

The 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index (Index) reflects the board practices and trends of S&P 500 companies. According to the Index, boards are responding to investors’ increasing calls for greater diversity of “gender, age, race/ethnicity and professional backgrounds.” Spencer Stuart found that “boards are accelerating the addition of women and minority directors,” which in turn is driving notable changes in board composition. Spencer Stuart predicts that the biggest drivers of board refreshment will be replacing retiring directors and adding new skills to the board.

The Index covers public companies in the S&P 500 as of May 15, 2019 and the proxy statements released between May 30, 2018 and May 15, 2019.
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Next SEC Investor Advisory Group Meeting–How Are Investors Using ESG Data?

Earlier this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that its Investor Advisory Committee (IAC) will be holding a meeting on Thursday, November 7, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. E.T. The agenda includes a morning discussion on whether and how investors use environmental, social and governance (ESG) data in their investment and capital allocation decisions. The agenda and press release provide no further details on the session topic other than the panelist list provided below.

Brief Backdrop

SEC Chairman Clayton has raised a similar question at prior IAC meetings on human capital management (HCM) as the one posed for the November 7, 2019 meeting.
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