AGMs: Tactics for a Plague Year

In a time of crisis and confusion, shareholders are more eager than ever to get answers from their boards and management. Yet holding traditional AGMs is nearly impossible. What are the best options for running AGMs during a plague year?

In a time of crisis and confusion, shareholders are more eager than ever to get answers from their boards and management. Yet holding traditional AGMs is nearly impossible.

Postponing them may also not be a good option. Advisors, analysts, shareholders, investors, employees and all other stakeholders are all eager to understand their companies’ way forward in such troubled times, and the AGM offers the best way to address this. Postponing the AGM, even for good reasons, sends a bad signal to the markets at the very time when addressing investor and broader social concerns is critical.

For example, many companies are considering reducing dividends due to the challenging economic conditions, yet CEO pay reductions are not on the AGM agendas. CEO pay continues to rise, regardless of performance. The top 35 highest-paid CEOs on the S&P 500 received a combined Total Realized Compensation (TRC) of almost $3 billion in 2019, yet pay-for-performance alignment is badly skewed at nearly half of the companies on the index as our statistics show.

If postponing is not an option, companies do have two other options at their disposal: Running a ‘hybrid’ AGM, which would combine physical presence with virtual communications, or making the entire AGM virtual. Most companies don’t have such options included in their Articles of Association, but the first step at the hybrid or virtual AGM would mean voting on such changes. The London Stock Exchange is currently pushing for emergency legislation to change the companies act to allow all companies to stage virtual shareholder meetings. 

The hybrid option means that either board members are physically present at the AGM, while shareholders communicate with them via virtual links, or that shareholders send representatives to physically attend the meeting while board members communicate via video or audio communications. Voting ahead of meetings is also an option, working with proxy advisors.

Swedish telecoms and networking firm L.M. Ericsson has chosen the former hybrid option for its 2020 AGM on 31 March. The President and CEO Börje Ekholm will not attend in person, but will participate via links (it is not clear whether other board members will attend in person). A live webcast of the meeting will be available to shareholders.

To keep the numbers of attendees down, Euroclear Sweden will offer shareholders who are individuals the option to vote via proxy, and other opportunities to work with proxies are made available to shareholders. “No food or refreshments will be served,” the official invitation warns.

Ericsson’s official invitation offers links to Nomination Committee proposals as well as to some shareholder motions.

But, in this hybrid approach to the AGM, is it clear that board members will be able to fulfil their fiduciary responsibilities in communicating with shareholders? Will it be possible to hold a dynamic discussion of the company’s affairs? Will shareholders be able to work with proxy advisors on such short notice – how will policies be communicated? Will a shareholder wishing to pose a complex question to the CEO get sufficient airtime?

The alternative hybrid approach to running AGMs would mean that board members are physically present, while shareholders communicate with them entirely via audio, video and messaging. And there is the further alternative, in which all communication takes place virtually.

Each of these alternatives poses many of the same questions that we’ve raised above. One of the virtues of the physically-attended AGM is that a shareholder can follow up on questions, or insist on attention to specific subjects. Can shareholders be sure this will happen online?

The even larger question being asked at some companies will be whether all shareholders have had access to sufficient information to vote before the AGM. For example, under current conditions, it may not be possible for the audit of financial statements to be concluded. Some companies are opting to work with financial reporting that is incompletely audited. This poses a serious corporate governance challenge that the board would have to address at the AGM.

The diffusion of extensive financial and non-financial information to shareholders and their representatives ahead of the meeting is also critical for these virtual or semi-virtual AGMs to succeed. Given that shareholders must accept somewhat limited access to the board, they must be certain that all of the information relevant to decision-making on matters such as executive compensation, director election, Stock Purchase Plan has been provided in advance.

Boards that take all the necessary steps to ensure that shareholders have the information they need ahead of the AGMs will be fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders. At the same time, Shareholders will need to step up and leverage technology and information to support their engagement. The AGM will provide the basis for the company to move forward even in a Plague Year.

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This article, originally published in Dutch in Mgmt. Scope, CGLytics examines CEO compensation issues going into the 2020 proxy season

CEO Pay Continues to Increase, but Performance Often Lags

Shareholders, including large institutional investors, are continuing the growing momentum to link executive pay to company performance.

What’s your flavor? Companies get a taste of CEO pay for the proxy season

This article, originally published in Dutch in Mgmt. Scope, CGLytics examines CEO compensation issues going into the 2020 proxy season

This article by CGLytics CEO, Aniel Mahabier, first appeared in Dutch in Mgmt. Scope on 11th March 2020: https://managementscope.nl/opinie/bestuurdersbeloningen-bedrijfsprestaties

Executive compensation gains attention in the run-up to annual shareholder meetings. The key question is whether compensation plans are socially responsible and align with company performance relative to its peers.  In 2019, companies already got a taste of the increasing interest in CEO pay from shareholders. “That attention is only increasing,” says Aniel Mahabier, founder and CEO of CGLytics, the leading global provider of governance data and executive compensation tools. “Executives  and directors  who are not sufficiently prepared are facing reputational risks.”

As shareholders and other stakeholders prepare themselves for annual shareholder meetings, it’s the moment to speak out on these important issues. Shareholders will again make themselves heard this year. For several years now, engagement between shareholders and companies has been growing. Parties are more likely to vote and use their voting rights to steer business policy: the number of votes against remuneration policies are increasing proportionally at the meetings of the 5,900 listed companies we track. An increasing number of shareholders want compensation to reflect the company’s long-term performance and value creation (in other words, pay for performance and earnings per share).

Pay for performance

It is obvious that the compensation of executives should reflect the company’s performance, however data shows a different picture.

In a large number of the publicly listed companies, there is pay for performance misalignment. The CEO’s compensation is – consciously or unconsciously – not in line with the value create by the company over multiple years.

More than half of companies in the US S&P 500 Index lack a correlation between CEO compensation in 2019 and the development of the company’s earnings per share over the past three years.

In some instances, the CEO compensation is lower than expected based on CEO value creation. With a much larger proportion of companies, the value created by the CEO is much lower than you would expect based on the level of their compensation received. In many situations, at the general meeting of shareholders, companies proposed increasing executive pay, although the company’s performance declined.

Mismatch

This misalignment between CEO compensation and company performance is increasingly gaining the attention of shareholders, employees, governments and other stakeholders. The top 35 executives of companies in the S&P 500 collectively earn almost more than $3 billion, which contributes to the discussion. In Europe we see a similar picture. For a third of the listed companies in the Benelux, the CEO’s compensation does not align with the realized value creation. A similar picture is seen at a third of companies in Britain’s FTSE 350 Index.

Drivers of change

The focus on responsible compensation is in line with the focus in society on sustainable business growth.

Large investors – pension funds and insurers – are drivers of the change in compensation.  Passive investors, such as asset managers Vanguard and BlackRock, are also increasingly using their control to influence compensation proposals.  We see that they are trying to encourage a more socially responsible compensation policy in different ways. For example, by engaging  on compensation  policies and proposals with shareholders and other stakeholders before the general meeting of shareholders and underpinning this with data. We see signs that this is reducing the number of dissent votes against the proposed policy.

Shareholders do not hesitate to enforce change where necessary. For example, by voting against incentive proposals including equity plan proposals at the meeting. A large investor has stipulated that if more than 25% of shareholders speak out against a compensation proposal, they will in turn vote against the reappointment of the chairman of the compensation  committee. The same strategy is used if the compensation proposals provoke a substantial number of counter-voters in two consecutive years.

Reward regulators

All efforts to promote sustainable value creation are having an effect: short-term pay is making way for a long-term performance-based compensation structure. Several listed companies have either decreased, shifted or changed the variable compensation component of their executives’ pay plan into fixed compensation. The latter includes, more often, a combination of cash and shares of the company. Using shares as an incentive, there is a direct alignment between the pay of the CEO and the performance of the company.

The same development is also seen when looking at the compensation of directors (non-executive directors). Where it is common practice in the United States to reward directors with, among other things, shares of the company, this was not common, or even prohibited, in Europe for a long time. That has changed. For example, the new corporate governance code in Belgium offers the possibility to reward non-executives partly in shares. This creates a shared interest with shareholders.

Sustainable criteria

An important development is seen in the use of non-financial metrics for executive and CEO compensation.

Shareholders expect companies to include non-financial guidelines such as ESG criteria in their compensation system in addition to financial guidelines – such as earnings per share and Total Shareholder Return (TSR). These criteria show how the company takes into account various ESG  sustainability criteria: Environmental, Social (social policy) and Governance (good governance).

In many countries in Europe, listed companies are obliged to include such non-financial disclosure in their annual reports. It therefore seems logical to also link the compensation of the executives to the goals set by the company in the field of corporate social responsibility. The recent governance crisis at a major Swiss bank illustrates how the lack of good governance can affect the oversight and value creation of a company in the long term.

Although attention to the inclusion of non-financial metrics is increasing, the application is still limited in practice. Only 27% of FTSE 350 and ISEQ 20 companies have included some form of measurable ESG criteria in incentive plans. And even in these companies, the proportional share of compensation determined by ESG performance is small. This deserves attention: if the sustainable objectives are not included in executive compensation, there is a risk that the compensation policy will lose connection to the business strategy.

Risk factors

A responsible compensation plan based on financial and non-financial metrics is more important than ever. An increasing number of directors, regulators, compensation committees and investors are therefore scrutinizing CEO compensation and use CGLytics data and pay for performance benchmarking tools to review compensation proposals and policies. Directors are using this information to prepare their engagement with active shareholders, proxy advisors like Glass Lewis and other stakeholders. Investors are looking for red flags, undiscovered risk factors that threaten the quality of governance in the company. Having access to similar information and tools ahead of the proxy season, is allowing compensation committees to respond in a timely manner to pitfalls in the existing compensation plan and proposal to avoid potential reputational and activism risk.

Would you like to gain instant insights into more than 5,900 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

Or access the same CEO pay for performance insights used by Glass Lewis in their proxy papers?

Click here to request a demo to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, currently utilized by world-leading institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

About the Author

Aniel Mahabier: CEO of CGLytics

Aniel Mahabier  is CEO and founder of CGLytics, the leading global provider of governance data and executive compensation tools. Mahabier interviews and writes for Management Scope about the remuneration of directors and corporate governance analytics.

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CEO Pay Continues to Increase, but Performance Often Lags

Shareholders, including large institutional investors, are continuing the growing momentum to link executive pay to company performance.

Shareholders, including large institutional investors, are continuing the growing momentum to link executive pay to company performance.

The UK Investment Association, which represents more than £7 trillion ($9 trillion) in assets, responded to investor dissent of FTSE350 companies not acting on executive pay concerns by issuing a new version of executive pay guidelines for disclosures in 2019. With a statement claiming, “companies need to demonstrate the link between pay and company performance. If they don’t, they should brace themselves for more shareholder revolts”. It is clear from this statement that executive pay and pay regimes are still hot topics.

In the US, the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) have also commented in the past on the “excessive complexity in U.S. executive pay plans, and questions on the effectiveness of approaches to pay-for performance.”

There are indeed vast disparities between compensation at select companies within the S&P500 index and their Total Shareholder Return (TSR).  CGLytics, as part of its S&P 500 CEO/Executive Compensation review, has developed an extremely granular view of CEO pay in comparison with performance for the index, helping to focus the debate on the issue.  The review examines different aspects of CEO pay among the constituents of the S&P 500index, including fixed v. variable compensation mix, overview of Pay vs. TSR, and a pay for performance review on a one- and three-year basis.

Realized Pay Correlates with Growth

CEOs received an average of $14,748,284 in Total Granted Compensation (TGC) and $19,276,476 in Total Realized Compensation (TRC) in 2018, the report shows.  Yet the average TSR for S&P 500 companies in 2018 was -6 percent. While this is an improvement from 2008, in which average TSR was -39 percent (average granted pay was $9,563,165 and average realized pay was $10,318,656), it is not a result that is likely to satisfy shareholders.

Indeed, the report indicates a trend that supports the need for performance-related incentives: Granted pay steadily increases from year to year while realized pay tends to coincide with absolute growth.

 

That need is further supported by the comparison of CEO pay with TSR. Naturally a zero-percent margin or zero disparity between a CEO’s realized pay and the company’s TSR is considered perfect alignment.

Historic number of shareholders oppose boards on executive pay

Companies such as Michael Kors Holdings Limited, NVIDIA Corporation, Constellation Brands, Inc., Goldman Sachs Group, and Capital One Financial Corporation all had CEOs rank in the top of their sectors for Total Realized Compensation in 2018. Yet, each of these companies also had a 2018 TSR in the bottom 20 percent of their industry.

Not surprisingly, this leads to shareholders questioning the pay practices of the board, and, in fact, opposition from shareholders for executive compensation issues is at an all-time high. In total, about six percent of director nominees have received less than 80 percent support, and 0.3 percent have not secured majority support. Eight percent of Say on Pay votes have secured less than 70 percent support, and two percent have not achieved majority support.

These numbers may seem small, but they are actually historic in significance compared with previous years’ levels of opposition for related AGM items. It is clear that large passive investors have become more hesitant to approve large one-time retention awards, unrestricted equity to executives, and executive incentive grant with no performance criteria.

To learn more about the Say on Pay landscape of the S&P 500 index, click here to download the full report.

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Randstad make data-based decisions going into the AGM season

“At Randstad we are looking at the remuneration policy on a continual basis and it’s an important topic. Prior to the AGM we want to fully understand how all our stakeholders look at our remuneration policy. “

Randstad N.V. is a leading global HR services company. The company, which is headquartered in Diemen, Netherlands, provides work for more than 670,000 people
around the world each day.

With anything less than 80% of approval from shareholders on remuneration policies now deemed as negative by stakeholders (compared to 50% five years ago), and justification requirements increasing (inpart due to implementation of the Shareholders’ Right Directive II in Europe), companies’ remuneration policies are coming
under greater scrutiny.

Going into the next proxy season, Randstad wants to know which KPIs are being used by other companies to form their own opinion and they also want to compare executive remuneration against peers’ and understand how they will be perceived by proxy advisors like ISS and Glass Lewis.

Read the full story here and find out why Ranstad now goes into their AGMS with greater confidence and how they are able to make data-based decisions rather than assumptions.

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Westpac: the issues, regulators and lessons to be learnt

It has been revealed that several banks have been involved in fraudulent and criminal conduct, one of them being Westpac Banking Corporation.

Since the Royal Commission was established to inquire and report on misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry in Australia (on December 2017 )[1], it has been revealed that several banks have been involved in fraudulent and criminal conduct, one of them being Westpac Banking Corporation.

One of the more egregious acts of misconduct, according to the Royal Commission, was Westpac filling out loan forms and documents on behalf of its clients. Westpac was quick to acknowledge that it was normal practice for staff to help clients fill out documents on their behalf. However, after further investigation, there was evidence to suggest that the bank falsely witnessed documents and marked documents without client approval and acknowledgement[2].

 

The case of Ms. Flanagan

A specific case for this issue was that of an elderly pensioner, Ms. Carolyn Flanagan. Ms. Flanagan became a guarantor for a business loan taken out by her daughter. Westpac, despite having knowledge of Ms. Flanagan’s numerous medical conditions such as being legally blind, deafness, depression and a previous battle with cancer, allowed her to become a guarantor of AUD 165,000 business loan while claiming her home as collateral. Unfortunately, her daughter’s business failed two years after the loan was taken out in 2010. Westpac sought to evict the pensioner to recoup funds, but allowed Ms. Flanagan to live in her home until her passing. However, if she decided to sell the property, even for the purpose of funding her aged care and medical bills, she would have been liable to pay AUD 170,000 from the sale, plus three per cent per annum accruing.

Westpac’s general manager has admitted that the bank had incorrectly filled out Ms. Flanagan’s daughter’s loan. The marked document suggested that Ms. Flanagan sought independent legal and financial advice regarding the business loan, when in fact, she had not. Westpac admits its staff had wrongly assumed that Ms. Flanagan would be seeing a lawyer after the meeting. The bank lacked due diligence in checking for the elderly’s sources of income, placing the loan at greater risk. Furthermore, a Westpac employee admitted to signing the loan documents as a witness even before Ms. Flanagan signed the document.

 

Westpac CEO apologizes and releases statement

After the scandal was released, Westpac Group’s CEO Brian Hartzer released a public apology and a guarantee that the bank will learn from its mistakes[3]. The introduction of low rate credit cards, lower transaction fees, amendment of remuneration structures and other initiatives are some of the measures taken by Westpac to remedy its misconduct[4].

 

Shareholders show distrust via remuneration report

Unfortunately, these initiatives were not enough to win back the trust and satisfaction of Westpac shareholders. During the 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM), 64.16 per cent of shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report[5]. This resulted in a first strike for the company. According to the Corporations Act 2001, a company will be given a first strike when 25 per cent or more vote “no” on the remuneration report. The company must be able to review and reform its remuneration structures before the next AGM[6]. The following AGM determines whether a company gets a second strike. This is when 25 per cent or more shareholders vote against its remuneration report for the second time. During the next AGM, shareholders will establish whether directors need to stand for re-election. If 50 per cent or more shareholders vote to pass a “spill” resolution, a “spill” meeting will be held within 90 days[7].

Despite the 25 per cent cut of short-term cash awards to executives, shareholders still showed concern of executives receiving large amounts of bonuses following the scandals revealed by the Royal Commission. Westpac Chairman Mr. Lindsay Maxsted pointed out that such misconduct was not limited only to Westpac, and he continued to defend via the decrease in short-term awards for executives. He further urged shareholders not to focus on the issues released by the Commission as this does not reflect the overall culture of the company[8]. Westpac has allotted AUD 281 million for customer compensation and litigation costs[9][10]. After the no-confidence vote on the company’s remuneration report, Mr. Maxsted said that the bank will be reviewing the remuneration structure and taking shareholder feedback very seriously[11].

 

Westpac’s Pay for Performance alignment compared to country and industry peers

CGLytics’ Pay for Performance analysis (using its Pay for Performance modeling application) shown below, has compared Westpac’s CEO total realized pay with the industry peer group’s three-year Total Shareholder Return (TSR). The CEO’s pay is in the 45th percentile compared to the three-year TSR being ranked in the 20th percentile which shows that the CEO’s pay is aligned to the TSR performance following the 25 per cent decrease in short-term cash awards.

Westpac’s CEO Pay for Performance

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Westpac’s assessment of culture, governance and accountability

After the 2018 AGM, the Australian Regulation Prudential Authority (APRA) requested that Westpac undergo an assessment of its culture, governance and accountability (CGA)[12]. The bank’s CGA self-assessment report stated that the company needs improvement of understanding non-financial risks. Westpac admitted that the bank’s management of non-financial risks was “generally less mature” than its management of financial risks[13]. The bank’s recommendations are focused around five streams, namely: governance, risk and compliance, customers, remuneration and accountability and culture. The CGA report was released in the hopes of avoiding a second strike during the 2019 AGM.

Towards the end of November 2019, Austrac, an Australian Government regulator for financial crimes, discussed legal actions against Westpac following an estimated AUD 23 million legal breaches worth over AUD 11 billion[14]. Among these breaches, the most detrimental is the one regarding transactions involved in child exploitation in the Philippines.

Austrac claims that Westpac failed to meet anti-money laundering and counter terror finance (AML-CTL) laws by allowing some 3,000 transactions, all valued less than AUD 500,000, made by twelve Westpac customers. Austrac stated that Westpac should have flagged these transactions, as they were consistent with child exploitation practices[15]. Such practices include: customers remitting small amounts of money to the Philippines and Southeast Asia despite having no familial or business connections in those countries, customers remitting money to a suspected “child exploitation arranger” in the Philippines, and customers with known prior child exploitation charges remitting money to the Philippines.

Westpac was accused of not conducting due diligence despite having knowledge of the aforementioned practices. Only 18 months after the transactions had occurred did Westpac take any action.

Westpac responds to scandal with changes to their board

After the release of this new scandal, shareholders of Westpac have been aggressive in wanting to terminate CEO Brian Hartzer[16]. However, the Board of Directors have expressed that there is no evidence that Mr. Hartzer was aware of these criminal transactions. As a result, Westpac again promised to cut down bonuses of its senior executives and promised to create a financial crime committee[17]. Despite these efforts, pressure and criticism from shareholders pushed CEO Mr. Brian Hartzer, Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Board Risk Committee Mr. Ewen Crouch, and Chairman Mr. Lindsay Maxsted to step down from the board and company[18].

After the awaited 2019 AGM on December 12, 2019, results were released that 35.90 per cent of shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report, earning them a strike two. However, 91.26 per cent of shareholders voted no on the conditional spill resolution[19]. All directors except Mr. Ewen Crouch, who had withdrawn his re-election, passed the re-election and election on their positions[20]. Mr. Maxsted stated that the Board will be decreasing 20 per cent in executive pay, and deduct short-term awards to zero.

 

Westpac’s board skills matrix and expertise

Looking into Westpac’s board expertise and skills, one may want to deduce if the Board had the right skills set to manage the affairs of the Board. According to CGLytics’ Board Expertise application, Westpac has a significant number of directors that have experience in advisory which is timely and relevant during this turbulent time. Westpac has claimed that the Board is competent in finance, including financial risks. However, the Board lacks expertise in risk management, specifically in non-financial risk to account for risks such as reputational damage, for the next AGMs. Another expertise that is crucial in this time is legal, where compliance and governance is much needed to enforce regulatory frameworks provided by Austrac, APRA and other regulators [21].

Westpac's board expertise and skills

westpac_board
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Westpac has responded by appointing a new Chairman, Mr. John McFarlane, who has over 40 years of experience in banking and is expected by shareholders to quickly settle current issues as well as appoint a new Chief Executive Officer[22]. Another step that Westpac has taken following the scandals is to appoint Accountability Review Advisory Panel members. The following members of the panel are: Mr. Colin Carter, Dr. Kerry Schott and Dr. Zygmunt Switkwoski[23]. The panel’s objective is to give recommendations on risk governance and accountability in response to Austrac.

Are you prepared for the 2020 proxy season? The CGLytics platform provides users with a wealth of governance insights. From executive remuneration, board composition and risk indicators, CGLytics empowers Companies, Boards, Investors and Third-parties to be one step ahead.

CGLytics executive pay data is trusted worldwide by leading independent proxy advisor Glass Lewis for research analysis used in their proxy papers. Access the same data in the CGLytics application.

Would you like to gain instant insights into more than 5,500 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

Or access the same CEO pay for performance insights used by Glass Lewis in their proxy papers?

Request a demo to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, currently utilized by world-leading institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

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References

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/20/banking-royal-commission-all-you-need-to-know-so-far

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/20/banking-royal-commission-all-you-need-to-know-so-far

[3] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2018/28-september/

[4] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2018/28-january/

[5] https://thewest.com.au/business/banking/westpac-chiefs-brace-for-fiery-perth-agm-following-banking-royal-commission-revelations-ng-b881048164z

[6] https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/resources/all-sectors/director-remuneration

[7] https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/what-is-the-two-strikes-rule-20121008-278us.html

[8] https://www.afr.com/companies/financial-services/westpac-gets-a-first-strike-at-agm-20181212-h190vn

[9] https://www.westpac.com.au/news/making-news/2018/12/strike-sends-a-strong-message/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/12/disgruntled-westpac-shareholders-vote-down-executive-pay-over-bonuses

[11] https://www.sharecafe.com.au/2018/12/13/58152/

[12] https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/westpac-risks-second-strike-on-executive-pay-20190624-p520ns.html

[13]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/media/Westpac_Self-Assessment_Report_.pdf

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/21/what-is-westpac-accused-of-and-how-is-this-related-to-child-exploitation-explainer

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/21/legal-breaches-allowed-westpac-customers-to-pay-for-child-sex-undetected-austrac-alleges

[16] https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/banking/calls-for-blood-over-westpac-money-laundering-and-child-exploitation-scandal/news-story/8f85b5a35cf033b08ab40d74c369f72b

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/28/more-directors-may-leave-westpac-as-investigation-seeks-board-accountability

[18] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/westpac-chairman-agm-protest-vote/11792010

[19]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/ic/WBC_AGM_2019_Results.pdf

[20] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/westpac-chairman-agm-protest-vote/11792010

[21]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/media/Westpac_Self-Assessment_Report_.pdf

[22] https://www.westpac.com.au/news/making-news/2020/01/sufficiently-battle-hardened-westpac-names-new-chair/

[23] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2019/20-december/

About the Author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

Alex graduated from the S P Jain School of Global Management in Sydney with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship. She previously worked in the compliance division at a large financial institution and gained her experience as a research analyst.

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Reflection on 2019 Executive Pay: Belgium and Luxembourg

In the recent report published by PwC, using CGLytics data and analytics, the critical trends from the 2019 proxy season for Belgium and Luxembourg listed companies surrounding executive compensation were revealed.

In the recent report published by PwC, using CGLytics data and analytics, the critical trends from the 2019 proxy season for Belgium and Luxembourg listed companies surrounding executive compensation were revealed.

Analysis of votes on remuneration items shows an increasing focus on making sure companies have sustainable value creation and a growing expectation of increased disclosure of financial and non-financial information. Shareholders have become more active over the past few years and the average CEO total realised compensation seems to show a decreasing trend and is adapting slowly to the evolution of the total shareholder return.

Belgian companies see more revolt on remuneration items

Belgium listed companies were seen to be more active compared to shareholders of Luxembourg listed companies. The data of the Selected Index of 49 companies indicates that Belgian listed companies were more affected by shareholder revolt on remuneration items than Luxembourg companies.

Shareholder Rights Directive 

Luxembourg successfully implementing SRD II, however Belgium failed to transpose the revised Shareholders Rights Directive to national law by the 10 June 2019 cutoff. Draft law implementing SRD II is being discussed in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives

The new Belgian Corporate Governance Code

The report sheds light on the new Belgian 2020 Corporate Governance Code (‘CGC’) compared to the 2009 CGC, which includes positive steps such as: 

  • • A cap being placed on short-term variable remuneration awarded to executive management; and 
  • • The principle that non-executive board members should receive part of their remuneration in the form of shares in the company.
  • • Particular attention to be paid to diversity, talent development and succession planning

 

Compensation design: Ratio of fixed versus variable remuneration

The report reveals that there is an increasing focus on long-term sustainable value creation.

The proportion of short-term incentives (STI) decreased from 2013 and continued to stagnate over the past few years. Next year’s analysis will tell whether the recent regulatory developments (the introduction of a cap on STI in the 2020 Belgian Corporate Governance Code) will impact the proportion of pay components.

 

To learn more about:

  • • The implementation of the revised Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) into Belgian and Luxembourg law,
  • • Evolution of votes on remuneration items,
  • • Shareholder revolt seen in 2019,
  • • Detailed insights into the CEO compensation mix (Base Salary, STIs, LTIs), and
  • • CEO Pay for Performance alignment of the Selected Index

 

Download the report here

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Concern over Wesfarmers’ executive pay?

Wesfarmers, which owns some of Australia’s most recognizable brands, sees concerns from shareholders and proxy advisors regarding its CEO and executive pay during the last proxy season

Wesfarmers, one of the biggest conglomerates in Australia, saw concern from its shareholders with a negative response during the recent 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) that was held last November 14, 2019.

Although all resolutions were passed, there was a large number of shareholders that voted against the adoption of the remuneration report, resulting in a 21.45 percent disapproval. One of the biggest causes of the pessimistic response from shareholders was due to proxy advisor ISS advising investors to go against the remuneration report because of an “excessive” compensation plan.

Although Wesfarmers’ demerger from Coles supermarket resulted in a 360 percent increase in after-tax profit to AUD 5.5 billion, the company will neither give incentive nor penalize its executives [1].

Shareholders were concerned over the pay for both Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robert Scott and Independent Chairman Michael Chaney [2]. Mr. Scott has received over AUD 4 million in total realized pay and Mr. Chaney has received AUD 780,000 in total compensation, which ISS claims is higher than its industry peers.

CGLytics Pay for Performance Analysis

According to our CGLytics analysis, Wesfarmers has a higher CEO total realized pay over three years than its three-year increase in total shareholder return (TSR), when compared against its country and industry peers.

This misalignment of the CEO pay compared to company performance may have been the cause of the company almost undergoing a first-strike. A first-strike occurs when 25 percent of shareholders vote against the adoption of the remuneration report and the company would need to either amend or justify its remuneration policies before the next AGM [3].

Wesfarmers Limited's CEO Pay for Performance

wesfarmers CEO pay
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Not only was there concern over the CEO pay for Wesfarmers, but the ambiguous changes in awards policies [4]. This was also seen as an issue for other proxy firms such as Glass Lewis and the Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA).

What is the KEEPP bonus scheme?

The 2016 and 2017 Key Executive Equity Performance Plan (KEEPP) bonus had been cancelled following the demerger of Coles supermarket, but a bonus will be rewarded with the same principles as KEEPP, however with different performance conditions.

The 2017 KEEPP Allocation for the CEO and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had the following performance metrics: 50 percent weighting on Wesfarmers relative to the TSR of the ASX 100 Index, 20 percent weighting on absolute Return on Equity (ROE) and 30 percent weighting on strategic measures.

Because of the demerger in 2018, the company has removed the performance condition on absolute ROE as it may have an impact on the targets of executives. The 2018 KEEPP allocation for the CEO and CFO is as follows: 60 percent weighting on the Wesfarmers’ relative TSR against the S&P/ASX100 Index, 20 percent weighting on Wesfarmers’ portfolio management and investment outcomes and 20 percent weighting on strategic measures. However, the company was not able to be fully transparent and clear in its disclosure of strategic measures and investment outcomes, only stating the improvement of data analytics and better progress in gender balance.

Wesfarmers underpays due to complications in payroll

After the release of the 2019 AGM results, another scandal arose when it came to light that Wesfarmers had underpaid up to 6,000 current and former employees of its industrial division, resulting in AUD 15 million or more in underpayments [5]. The company stated that its cause was due to a defect in a payroll system. The company plans to expedite the sending of payments into the banks of underpaid current and former employees before the end of 2019, but is hindered by the complication of its payroll system [6][7].

Linking director pay to competency and expertise

Companies not only link executive pay to performance, but more often than not, companies also link director pay to competency and expertise [8]. With the current events that Wesfarmers has experienced, it is suggested that the company would benefit from a board that can guide it towards its strategic direction, mitigate risk and oversee company performance.

According to our analysis (performend using the CGLytics application), Wesfarmers’ board has strengths in the areas of ‘advisory’ and ‘finance’. Wesfarmers recent acquisition of the Catch Group in 2019 (an e-commerce company that runs Catch.com.au, Mumgo, Grocery Run and Brands Exclusive), should see greater skills and expertise added in the area of ‘technology’, which is currently very low. ‘Governance’ experience, to spot and mitigate risks, is also worth looking at to ensure issues are resolved smoothly in the future.

Wesfarmers board's expertise and skills

Wesfarmers skills and expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Would you like to gain instant insights into more than 5,500 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

Or access the same CEO pay for performance insights used by Glass Lewis in their proxy papers?

Request a demo to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, currently utilized by world-leading institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

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The DOs and DON’Ts when rethinking incentive plans

Why have 75% of first-time say-on-pay votes failed in 2019? A large number of negative votes can be attributed to incentives. Companies need to rethink their incentive plans and make sure metrics truly benchmark performance.

Seventy-five percent of first-time say-on-pay (SoP) votes failed in 2019, and a large number of these negative votes focused on incentives.

There is an increasing need for companies to fully rethink their incentive plans, as the CGlytics whitepaper “How to take the testing of equity-based compensation plans into your own hands” points out.

“It is imperative that companies design their equity pay plans to ensure they receive shareholder approval first time, every time. In order to meet investor expectations, companies need to understand how they, and the proxy advisors they rely on, evaluate equity plans and make voting decisions.”

Marc Ullman, a partner with Meridian Compensation Partners explains what to do and what not to do in rethinking incentive plans.

First of all, companies need to fully rethink their compensation plans, and not to just tweak them. Making just a few cosmetic changes will not suffice to ensure that incentives are effective. At least every two years, a real restructuring is needed.

Often shareholder pushback will incite a rethink, but even with shareholder support, benchmarking for effectiveness is critical as priorities change and the business climate evolves. The plan must reflect the new realities the business faces.

Or the incentive plan may simply become too complicated to be useful, as continually including more metrics and other add-ons makes application confusing. This often happens as businesses try to simply tweak the plan instead of really rethinking it.

 

Here are the do’s and don’ts to achieve as near optimal alignment between pay and performance as possible:

– If you need a full-scale rethink, don’t settle for a mere tweak. Make sure that what you do matters, don’t nibble around the edges. Make sure the metrics truly benchmark performance.

– But don’t overdo it. Pick out the key metrics and focus on that; don’t try to transform the whole structure unless you really feel that you have to.

– As the rethinking process is underway, take note of the solid rationale that stems from the business model. This will be something to communicate at the end of the process, and one that can be used for grounding the basis of your thinking.

– Make sure you include all the right people: Finance, HR, Corporate leadership, corporate leadership and the business unit. Everyone should buy in to the metrics and the targets that are being set.

– Make sure your plan pays something in year one. After a big rollout you need to make sure that design provides results. Otherwise it could hurt your credibility.

– Take advantage of feedback from shareholder outreach. More and more companies are actively talking to shareholders, and their points of view should at least be considered as the design is taking shape. Consider investor relations and investor perspective and proxy advisors like ISS and Glass Lewis.

– Communicate internally and externally. You have multiple audiences internally.

 

Predict Shareholder Approval with Glass Lewis’ Equity Compensation Model

 

The Glass Lewis Equity Compensation Model (ECM) allows you to instantly test and review your incentives plan using the same key criteria and scoring system as leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis. The ECM supports testing of 4,300+ publicly-traded U.S. firms including the Russell 3000 and exclusively available via CGLytics.

With the ECM you can confidently engage, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your current and future equity plans. Ensure you get the votes to legally grant equity compensation to your executives, board members and staff.

Click here to learn more about the ECM application or request a no-obligation demonstration.

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Sims Metal Management: Tracking Pay for Performance Over Time

A key element in an assessment of remuneration outcomes is the payout track record and payout variability over several years. Sophisticated remuneration structures should result in pay outcomes which vary in line with performance.

CGI Glass Lewis assesses both executive remuneration structure and outcomes, which is highly valuable when considering our support for remuneration reports of ASX-listed entities.

Concepts of appropriate structure and appropriate outcomes are related, given that strong remuneration structures should result in appropriate remuneration outcomes. However, we have found that a) the complexity of remuneration structures, b) challenges in measuring performance, and c) a large degree of discretion built in to remuneration structures (whether visible or not) often stretch this relationship.  To compensate, CGI Glass Lewis will often consider remuneration structure and remuneration outcomes independently so as to have each component act as a cross-check of the other.

A key element in an assessment of remuneration outcomes is the payout track record and payout variability over several years. Sophisticated remuneration structures should result in pay outcomes which vary in line with performance. Furthermore, the relationship between pay and performance should persist over longer periods as a result of common short-term incentives and long-term incentive remuneration structures.

CGLytics data has allowed us to consider the relationship between executive pay and company performance over a five-year period and has been a key element in our remuneration reports.

CGLytics in use

Sims Metal Management (“SGM”) buys and processes scrap metal from businesses, other recyclers and the general public with over 250 processing facilities in the United States, United Kingdom and Australasia.

CGLytics captures the total realizable pay of ASX300 CEO’s, including for SGM, where total realizable pay is the value of awards vested to the CEO in any given year. CGLytics tools have allowed the charting of realizable pay for the CEO of SGM against realizable pay for CEO’s of peer entities. CGLytics also captures the EBITDA performance for SGM and peers.

The CGLytics analysis, which is included in our Proxy Paper for the SGM 2019 AGM is presented below:

SGM Peer Groups

Looking at the charts, SGM has outperformed its peers on an EBITDA basis between 2015 and 2018 and the CEO’s realizable pay rose to match that.  In FY2019, EBITDA has dipped, which is matched by a significant drop in the CEO’s take home pay—notwithstanding the payout is still above those of peer groups.

We are please to see this relationship between performance and pay and can easily see the variability in pay outcomes over time, which corresponds to company performance as measured by EBITDA.

As SGM has no obvious direct peers listed on the ASX, a diversified approach to peer groups is used.  The first peer group, Country, is a group of 10 peer entities which are similar to SGM in terms of market capitalisation, revenues and employee numbers.  Similarly, the second peer group, Industry, is a group of 10 peer entities with similar size as in the Country peer group, but with the addition of a further industry filter.

A common problem for ASX-listed entities is the sourcing of appropriate peers. The use of the two sets of companies addresses the shortcomings of using a single peer group and allows us to see if trends and patterns persist when moving from one peer group to another.

Conclusion

CGI Glass Lewis assessed SGM’s 2019 remuneration structure as Fair following application of our Good/Fair/Poor assessment options.  This has historically been our assessment of SGM’s remuneration structure.

After reviewing of remuneration outcomes, including CGLytics charts which enable us to see historic payout variation and an ongoing relationship between pay and performance, we were comfortable in supporting the remuneration report proposal at the 2019 AGM.  In this case, using an assessment of remuneration outcomes has supported a Fair grading of remuneration structure and has given us confidence in SGM’s remuneration report.

Ultimately, the 2019 AGM held on November 14, 2019, SGM’s remuneration report proposal received support from 92.80% of votes cast.

 

Access Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay analysis – Available through CGLytics

For the 2020 proxy season, CGLytics data will provide the basis of Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay recommendations.

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Remuneration policy: Directors reward attracts more and more attention

A well-founded remuneration policy is no longer optional. The new European Shareholder Rights Directive demands transparency around remuneration of directors.

At many of the annual shareholders meetings, the remuneration of the directors will soon be prominently on the agenda. It is one of the most important governance issues for companies. In 2019, companies already received a taste of the increasing interest in this topic of shareholders and employees. We expect that this attention will only increase. It is not only shareholders who look critically at the remuneration of the directors and everything that is related to it. The legislator is also alert. De new European Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) demands the transparency of the company around the remuneration of directors and senior managers. The reward must also be in line with the long-term value creation.

Active involvement

An increasing number of directors, supervisors renumeration committees and investors are using corporate governance analytics to review remuneration policy. That helps determine an adequate reward structure. And overseeing it. The wide-ranging discussion on Shell-CEO’s remuneration, Ben van Beurden, illustrates that. It more than doubled to € 20.1 million in 2018. Important detail: the data shows that his wages are 143 times higher than the average wage of the British staff of Shell. At Shell’s most recent meeting, shareholders had the chance to vote on the pay package, 10 percent of the shareholders voted against.

Equal to employees

We also see how stakeholders can appreciate a long-term remuneration policy. For example, insurer ASR came into the news positively when it wanted to permanently put an end to bonuses and pay in shares for the board. After the agreement with the shareholders, it is also stipulated that there are no variable remuneration schemes for the members of the Board of Directors, thus the remuneration policy is equal to that of the other employees in the company.

Effect new law

It is clear that companies need to be aware of the effects of their remuneration policy. We see a positive effect if companies do talk about the remuneration policy with shareholders and other stakeholders before the general meeting of shareholders, underpinning this with data. We see signals that this reduces the number of oppositions to the proposed policy.

A well-founded remuneration policy is no longer optional. Dutch companies must draw up their remuneration reporting for the 2019 financial year in line with the new requirements of SRD II. This includes a comprehensive overview of the remuneration and benefits of each individual director covered by the advisory vote of shareholders. In addition, Dutch listed companies need to explain how their salary strategy connects with the long-term goals. The new law also gives shareholders more participation and influence. Since the introduction of the law, companies need 75 percent of shareholders’ votes to adapt their salary strategy. This was previously 50 percent. All the more reason for companies – also non-listed ones – to put their remuneration policy into perspective.

For more information about how CGLytics’ executive compensation data and tools informs companies of how they compare to their peers reumuneration practices click here.

About the Author

Aniel Mahabier: CEO and founder of CGLytics

Mahabier interviews and writes for Management Scope about the remuneration of directors and corporate governance analytics. This blog was published in Management Scope.

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