This column looks at four circumstances having special impact on the governance of executive pay today and then focuses on one of them, proxy advisers (with particular attention to the largest one, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)). It concludes with suggestions as to steps that might be taken to better regulate proxy advisers.
Four Influential Factors
Increasing Complexity of the Executive Pay Discussion. Discussions of executive pay in proxy statements are often extremely complex and lengthy (frequently 30 to 40 pages of narrative and tables). Many companies are putting into the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) their own tables (most especially their own competing version of the Summary Compensation Table) in order to express their own views on the correct way to explain and justify executive pay at the issuer. It has become a challenge to understand any one company's executive pay arrangements and an even greater challenge to understand how that company's executive pay arrangements relate to those at competitor companies.
Institutional Shareholders. Institutional shareholders represent an overwhelming proportion of the vote at publicly traded companies. (They own approximately 75 percent of the market value of exchange- traded companies.) These institutional shareholders owe a fiduciary duty to the persons who own their shares or are beneficiaries of the trust funds managed by them. This duty includes understanding how the companies in which they have invested are managed, including management of executive pay. The explosion of data noted in the preceding paragraph has meant a challenge to these institutional shareholders in trying to understand the executive pay practices at thousands of companies that they (collectively) are investing in.read more