Today, the SEC rules on the independence of compensation committees and advisers were published in the Federal Register. As we described in our memo, the listing exchanges have 90 days to propose implementation, and then a year from today to finalize the standards with approval from the SEC.
Since those are the outside dates, the listing exchanges can act much sooner. Depending in part on the comments received on the proposed standards, final standards may be adopted in time to apply to the 2013 annual meeting. We hope that the transition period for compensation committee independence standards will accommodate the fact that many boards evaluate director independence months before proxy statements are issued with related independence disclosure. Companies and boards will need sufficient time to modify their processes to evaluate additional independence factors required, or possibly even change the composition of their compensation committee.
In terms of compensation adviser independence, since there is no public disclosure required, the rules may not be affected by the proxy season (and proxy statement) timing. The importance in this case is for the listing exchanges to provide sufficient transition periods for companies to gather the necessary information and the compensation committee to examine the required factors. Companies will also need to consider whether their governance documents, including committee charters, should be modified to reflect the new rules.
As a reference, in a rule filing on April 2003, NYSE allowed companies 18 months following SEC approval to comply with the requirement to have a majority of independent directors (classified boards had 30 months if the affected director was not up for election). By the time the SEC approved those and other governance rules for NYSE and Nasdaq in November 2003, the implementation schedule had been revised to apply to the following year’s annual meeting.