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ISS Issues 2021 Governance QualityScore Methodology Updates

On February 8, 2021, ISS announced the updated methodology guide the firm uses to determine a company’s Governance QualityScore (GQS), its proprietary rating system designed to help institutional investors assess companies for governance quality and risk. Seventeen new factors have been added, which ISS states is the largest GQS methodology release in recent years.

What GQS Measures

GQS is a decile-based score meant to indicate the corporate governance risk relative to other companies in a respective index or region.
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ISS Releases Its Compensation-Related Policy FAQs for 2021

On December 21, 2020, ISS released its updated compensation-related FAQs for 2021.  For U.S. companies, this set of guidance consists of ISS’ Compensation Policies FAQ, Equity Compensation Plans FAQ, Pay-for-Performance Mechanics and Peer Group FAQ. As we previously discussed, ISS released its 2021 U.S. Proxy Voting Benchmark Policy Recommendations in November. The updated policies and FAQs are effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2021.
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SEC Proposes Amendments to Modernize Rule 701 and Form S-8 and Temporary Rules to Allow for “Platform Worker” Participation

On November 24, 2020, the SEC released proposed amendments and proposed temporary rules relating to the federal securities laws that govern the issuance of equity securities to service providers pursuant to compensatory arrangements. Each proposal will be subject to a 60-day public comment period following publication in the Federal Register.

  • First, the SEC proposed amendments to modernize the framework for securities offerings and sales to workers under Rule 701 of the Securities Act of 1933 and registration statements on Form S-8.

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Glass Lewis Makes Key Changes to Proxy Voting and ESG Proposal Guidelines – Full Summary

On November 24, 2020, Glass Lewis (GL) released its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States and its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which outlines the firm’s approach to ESG shareholder proposals.  The policies are effective for shareholder meetings held after January 1, 2021.  Feedback on GL’s policies may be submitted using the link at the top of GL’s voting policy guidelines page.
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Glass Lewis Releases 2021 Proxy Voting Guidelines

Glass Lewis (GL) announced yesterday that its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States are now available. In addition, the proxy advisor announced the release of its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which includes the firm’s approach to shareholder proposals.

We are preparing a more fulsome Briefing: Governance blogpost summary.  In the meantime, the following are a few key changes:

  • BOARD GENDER DIVERSITY.   

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ISS Releases 2021 U.S. Proxy Voting Guidelines Today and other Upcoming Key Dates for ISS and Glass Lewis

ISS and Glass Lewis (GL) have publicly shared some key upcoming dates for the 2021 proxy season. Below is a list of dates the firms have provided and, based on the most recent year(s), our estimated release dates for other frequently-used proxy advisor publications. Unless specified otherwise, the updated policies listed below will be posted on the ISS website or GL website.
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Davis Polk Client Memo: Financial Services Regulatory Reform in the Biden Administration – Key Areas of Focus

This deck describes our view of the road ahead for financial regulatory reform under a Biden Presidency and a Republican Senate.  We see most of the action coming from the regulators, not Congress.  If the Senate ultimately turns Democratic, that view may change and we will update this deck.

Read the full memo here.
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ISS Releases Preliminary FAQs on U.S. Compensation Policies and the COVID-19 Pandemic

On October 15, 2020, ISS released a series of preliminary FAQs on its approach to analyzing pay decisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. These FAQs provide general guidance on how ISS Research may approach COVID-related pay decisions in the context of ISS’ pay-for-performance qualitative evaluation. ISS makes clear that the responses to the FAQs should not be construed as a guarantee as to how ISS will consider any particular situation.
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Glass Lewis Shares Recommendation Rates for 2020 Proposals

On October 8, 2020, Glass Lewis (GL) released reports providing its overview of the 2020 proxy season. These reports cover selected shareholder vote results and trends, market and regulatory developments, and whether GL was supportive of proposals on various topics submitted to shareholder votes during the 2020 proxy season. On a selected basis, the reports also provide GL’s rationale for its 2020 voting recommendations on company-specific proposals.
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Davis Polk Client Memo: SEC Maintains Its Focus on Perk Disclosures

The SEC has shown its willingness to continue to take companies to task for not disclosing perquisites and personal benefits to executive officers in a manner that is consistent with the SEC’s expectations.  Unfortunately, the SEC’s standard is often challenging to put into practice.

This memo highlights recent SEC guidance on potential perks related to the COVID-19 pandemic, describes the SEC’s latest enforcement activity and summarizes the recent series of SEC enforcement activity involving executive perks.
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ISS Peer Group Submission Window Is Currently Open

Each proxy season, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) constructs a peer group for each company prior to the company’s next proxy disclosure. ISS’ methodology for constructing the peer group is based in part on the company’s self-selected peer group. ISS recently invited submissions from certain U.S. and Canadian companies with annual meetings scheduled between September 16, 2020 and January 31, 2021.
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SEC Urged to Mandate Disclosures on COVID-19 Risks and Responses

On June 15, 2020, Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a nonprofit coalition founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, called on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public companies to disclose how they are protecting employees from coronavirus (COVID-19), citing that consistent, comprehensive information is critical to investors and public health.

Although the SEC Division of Corporate Finance issued Staff Guidance in March 2020 providing companies with its views on COVID-19 disclosures, followed by a joint statement on COVID-19 disclosures in April 2020 by SEC Chairman Clayton and Corp Fin Director Hinman which statement recommended that companies “provide as much information as is practicable” about how they are responding to the pandemic, AFR claims that these efforts were only one step in the right direction.
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COVID-19: Reductions in Executive Pay

Recent market volatility due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted many companies’ day-to-day operations resulting in economic hardship that has caused companies to consider or implement various measures to reduce personnel costs, including pay cuts, furloughs and/or layoffs. When implementing such personnel cost-cutting measures, a number of companies have reduced executive pay, including reductions in base salary and bonus opportunities, and some have also reduced director retainers.
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COVID-19: Impact on Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plans

Recent economic instability caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused many companies and their employees to suffer economic hardships that do not have a clear end in sight. As a result of ongoing fluctuations in the markets, uncertainty about job security and increased medical and other expenses, people are experiencing a real need for increased liquidity in the short term.
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COVID-19: Addressing Underwater Stock Options and Stock Appreciation Rights

The recent market volatility caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused precipitous drops in the stock prices of many companies, reducing the value of outstanding equity awards and potentially jeopardizing the effectiveness of these awards to reward and retain employees.  In particular, some companies may find that the exercise prices of their outstanding options and stock appreciations rights now substantially exceed the company’s current stock price.
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ISS Releases Policy Application Guidance For COVID-19’s Impact

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) issued guidance on voting policies of various corporate governance-related issues that are likely to be implicated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the 2020 proxy season. The guidance does not introduce any new formal policies. Rather, the guidance provides ISS’s perspective on selected market developments and application of several of its existing policies relevant to the U.S.
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COVID-19: Considerations for 2020 Incentive Compensation Programs

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the ensuing market uncertainty, as well as recently enacted legislation, have upended the compensation and benefit programs of many companies. These two memos are the first in a series of memos that will discuss considerations for companies to keep in mind in connection with their short- and long-term incentive compensation programs.
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Glass Lewis Outlook on COVID-19’s Impact on the Present and Future of Governance for Boards and Companies

Glass Lewis (GL) shared last Thursday more of its perspective and outlook of the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have on corporate governance for the 2020 proxy season. GL explains that it is issuing further updates because “it is important to provide the market with certainty and transparency on [GL’s] established approach” given that it believes that all governance issues and most proposal types will be impacted by the pandemic.
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Glass Lewis Is Currently Accepting Peer Group Submissions

Glass Lewis is currently accepting peer group submissions on its website until next Friday, January 31, 2020, from public companies making proxy filings through July 31, 2020. For all other companies making proxy filings through January 31, 2021, the deadline for submissions is July 31, 2020.

Glass Lewis utilizes its Pay-for-Performance Model with its A-F grading system (the “P4P Methodology”) to assess the degree to which a company’s executive compensation aligns with the company’s performance.
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A Snapshot of Board-Shareholder Engagement Trends

Directors of SEC-registered public companies are increasingly taking a more active role in the shareholder engagement process given the evolving corporate governance landscape, including the increasing number of requests for their participation by some of the largest institutional investors. The Conference Board and Rutgers University’s Center for Corporate Law and Governance have recently published a report showing the emerging practices surrounding when and how corporate directors engage with shareholders based on a survey administered in 2018.
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Davis Polk Client Memo: IRS Issues Proposed Regulations under Section 162(m)

On December 16, 2019, the IRS issued proposed regulations under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code, which generally have the effect of limiting the tax deductibility of a public company’s compensation arrangements.

The proposed regulations provide highly anticipated guidance clarifying the substantial changes made to Section 162(m) by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

This memorandum summarizes certain key aspects of the proposed regulations and identifies the components of the proposed regulations about which the IRS is seeking comment.
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A Profile of Some of the Largest U.S. Tech Boards

The 2019 U.S. Technology Spencer Stuart Board Index (Tech Index) reflects the board practices and trends of 200 public tech companies with the highest revenues based on proxy statements released between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019.

I. Selected Spencer Stuart Perspectives

  • Like the S&P 500 companies, the largest tech companies are enhancing board diversity on multiple fronts including gender, skills and experiences as they add new independent directors.

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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. 
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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.
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