When it comes to incentive compensation, everything old is new again.
Financial regulators are expected to revive rulemaking on a number of compensation provisions that never went into effect but were mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.
Some of the issues that bank and securities regulators could consider in the coming quarters include measures that will gauge executive pay against their performance, as well as mandate clawback provisions and enhanced reporting around incentive compensation structures, said Todd Leone, a partner and global head of compensation at consulting firm McLagan. He was speaking during Bank Director’s 2021 Bank Compensation & Talent Conference, held Nov. 8 to Nov. 10 in Dallas.
All banks with more than $1 billion in assets would need to comply with the final version of the enhanced incentive compensation requirements. Public companies, including banks, would need to comply with any final rules around clawbacks and pay versus performance. If the topics sound familiar, Leone reminded the crowd, it was because they were debated when the banking reform bill initially passed in 2010. Regulators considered rulemaking several years later. But the move to finally pass those rules could catch banks off-guard, especially when considering that rulemaking was essentially paused under the administration of President Donald Trump. Below is Leone’s overview of the proposed rules.
Clawback provisions, or a company’s ability to take back previously awarded pay or bonuses after a triggering event such as a restatement of earnings, were a hotly debated topic of the post-crisis financial reform bill more than a decade ago. They also came into focus in the bank space after news broke about the Wells Fargo & Co. fake account scandal in late 2016. In 2017, the bank’s board announced it would seek $75 million in previously awarded compensation from two of the senior executives that it held accountable for the scandal. In response, a number of banks created clawback policies of their own.
In October 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, under Chair Gary Gensler, reopened the comment period for the clawback provision, or Section 954 of the act. Leone pointed out that the proposed rule defines a triggering event as an accounting restatement for a material error. A company has up to three years to claw back incentive pay linked to the financial information that is restated; potentially impacted employees include current or former executive officers. Leone expected a final rule by the second half of 2022 but recommended that audience members stand pat until something is published.
“Don’t touch existing policies, since it’s in flux,” he recommended for banks that created their own policies.
Pay For Performance
Pay for performance, or Section 953(a), is a proposed disclosure requirement for public companies, including banks, that would most likely appear as a table in the proxy statement. The disclosure compares total shareholder return for a company against a company-selected peer group, along with compensation figures of a company’s top executives. The company would need to state the principal executive’s reported total compensation for the current year and past four years, along with the average reported total compensation for other named executive officers over the current year and past four years.
Like the clawback proposal, this provision was first debated by the SEC in 2015; it is in “final rule stage,” according to the agency, and Leone believed it could go into effect in the second half of 2022. The rule could create a “fair bit more work” for companies to comply with, he said. But he believed it will have a similar impact on the industry as the CEO pay ratio disclosure, which compares the pay of the CEO to that of the company’s median employee and has yet to lead to significant changes in pay for either group.
Incentive Compensation Rules
Similar to the other two proposals, the enhanced incentive compensation rule, or Section 956, has come up again. The SEC included it as a proposed rule in its agency rules list for spring 2021. Leone joked that he had used the same presentation slide on the enhanced incentive compensation rule a decade ago. The rule has been proposed by regulators twice since the passage of Dodd-Frank: It was 70 pages when it was first proposed in 2011 but had grown to 700 pages when it was re-proposed in 2016, he said.
Leone believed this rule will come up again in the spring of 2022, and that rulemaking will take some time because a number of regulators will need to collaborate on it. It would apply to all banks with more than $1 billion in assets, along with other financial institutions such as credit unions and broker dealers. The requirements would vary based on asset size, with the biggest firms facing the most stringent rules around their incentive compensation agreements. Under previous iterations of the rule, financial institutions would need to include provisions to adjust incentive compensation downward under certain circumstances, outline when deferred incentive compensation could be forfeited and build in a clawback period of seven years.
In the end, Leone recommends banks be proactive when it comes to changing compensation rules.
“Expect more, not less regulation,” he said.