The decision to take your bank public will set the course of your company for years to come. There are several critical steps to prepare your compensation program before the IPO and before your bank is a public company.
Steps to prepare for the IPO
1. Assemble Your Compensation Team
Determine the team focused on compensation matters. If you have employees with IPO experience and compensation plans, they could be a key asset. Similarly, if you have employees without IPO experience but have public company experience, they could be a key team member as well.
2. Create Your IPO-Related Task List
Your bank may have implemented many compensation and governance related items already, but they should be reviewed for their appropriateness for a public company.
Key tasks required prior to the IPO will vary, however, here is a list of compensation tasks on every pre-IPO list.
- Develop an executive compensation philosophy and key objectives – What is your bank’s strategy? Where do you target compensation? Is your pay aligned with performance? What are the objectives of your compensation program? What message do you want to send to shareholders? Craft overarching guidelines to support the process going forward.
- Evaluate and establish appropriate executive and director compensation levels – Prior to the IPO, your company will have to disclose its executive and director compensation. You want to be sure your compensation programs are reasonable, competitive, and based on peer group data. Establishing a suitable peer group and incorporating the data into your process is key.
- Equity plan considerations – Will a new equity plan be required, and when will you need shareholder approval? How will you determine the share pool so long-term incentive and equity grant needs can be met for three to five years? Have you evaluated the shareholder advisory firms’ current standards to receive favorable support? Avoid any pitfalls that would result in a “no” vote recommendation.
If the company is considering one-time IPO-related equity grants, evaluate these in light of market trends, shareholder expectations, retention concerns, financial impact to the company and dilution. Many institutions consider sizeable one-time grants a front-loaded award, and decide to wait before awarding additional equity. Such decisions are based on share pool impact, financial implications, and size of the one-time grants. Carefully determine the value of these awards to minimize risks of unfavorable optics and legal actions.
- Design ongoing annual and long-term incentive plans – As a public company, it is important to have annual and long-term incentive plans that align pay and performance, are competitive, consistent with company objectives and provide an appropriate mix of pay. As new incentive plans are designed, know that plan details will be disclosed in future public filings. Private banks are accustomed to implementing plans that are regulatory compliant and competitive, but public disclosure has not been required.
- Implement executive agreements – In many cases, new employment and change-in-control agreements are put in place, often the case even if similar agreements were in effect before the IPO. Several details, including the terms, are subject to public disclosure. Shareholder advisory firms take issue with certain terms and, and having them can automatically result in ‘no’ vote for Management Say on Pay and the re-election of the board’s compensation committee. It is critical to be aware of these pitfalls and avoid them whenever possible.
3. Determine appropriate technical and governance actions
There are key technical and governance issues to evaluate. Some items are required while others are not. Many are considered best practices and important to achieving strong governance. Some of the key items in this category include:
- Drafting of the SEC required filings including the CD&A (Compensation Discussion and Analysis), compensation tables and other requirements. Reporting errors and omissions can delay the IPO.
- Determining company stock ownership guidelines - Many new public banks do not adopt stock ownership guidelines immediately, however, if one-time equity grants are awarded, adopting such guidelines immediately sets the parameters for holding these shares. Determine who will be covered by the guidelines (e.g., executives, Section 16 officers, non-employee directors), what the required holdings are, the timeframe permitted, and other terms.
- Drafting the Compensation Committee Charter - A charter establishes the role and responsibilities of the committee, how it will interact with the board and management, and its ability to engage outside advisors. The charter is typically published on the company’s website.
4. Create a compensation committee calendar after the IPO
Once the IPO is completed, it is important for the compensation committee to focus on its new role, responsibilities and annual tasks. Setting up a calendar of activities supports effective management and should include all areas of committee oversight.
Taking your bank public can be a very exciting endeavor. Do not underestimate the number of new issues management, the compensation committee and the board will have to become familiar with to complete a successful IPO and operate a public company. Being organized, having the right knowledge and support and a flexible timeline will be great tools to help your organization get through this process.