Compensation and Governance Committees: Sharing the Hot Seat in 2016


hot-seat-11-19-15.pngThe compensation committee has been on the hot seat for several years. Outrage regarding executive pay and its perceived role in the financial crisis has put the spotlight on the board members who serve on this committee. Say-on-pay, the non-binding shareholder vote on executive compensation practices, was one of the first new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements implemented as part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. Since that time, public companies have responded to shareholder feedback and changed compensation programs and policies to garner support from shareholders and advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis & Co. In recent years, only 2 percent of public companies have “failed” their say-on-pay vote. The significant majority of public companies (approximately 75 percent of Russell 3000 companies) received shareholder support of 90 percent or greater during the 2015 proxy season. Today, companies with less than 90 percent should increase their shareholder outreach, as a dip below that level is often an indicator of emerging concerns.

Compensation committees can’t sit back and relax on these results. The SEC’s proposed rule for pay versus performance disclosure (published in April) and the final rule for the CEO pay ratio (published in August) will further intensify the focus on executive pay and require compensation committees to dedicate much more time and energy to evaluate and explain their pay decisions in light of these new disclosures. Fortunately, implementation of the CEO pay ratio is delayed until the 2018 proxy season while the SEC has not yet adopted final rules for the pay versus performance disclosure (as of September). It is hard to predict what influence these additional disclosures will have on shareholders’ say-on-pay votes. What is clear is that boards will need to monitor these and other pending Dodd-Frank Act rules (i.e. mandatory clawback, disclosure on hedging policies, incentive risk management) in the coming year.  

In the meantime, however, boards may face increased shareholder scrutiny in key governance areas.

Proxy access, the ability of significant shareholders to nominate board members on the company’s proxy ballot, achieved momentum in 2015 when New York City Comptroller Scott Singer submitted proxy access proposals at 75 public companies as part of his 2015 Boardroom Accountability Project. We expect proxy access proposals will remain a focus among activist shareholders during the 2016 proxy season. Dissatisfaction with executive compensation and board governance are often the reasons cited by shareholders seeking proxy access.

Institutional shareholders and governance groups have also started to focus on board independence, tenure and diversity. Institutional investors such as Vanguard and State Street Global Advisors consider director tenure as part of their voting process and ISS includes director tenure as part of their governance review process. This could lead to a push for term and/or age limits for directors in the near future. While many companies use retirement age policies as a means to force board refreshment, it is unclear if that will be enough. Boards would be wise to start reviewing their board composition and succession processes in light of their specific business strategies but also in consideration of these emerging governance and shareholder perspectives.

The intense scrutiny by investors and proxy advisors of public companies’ compensation and governance practices shows no signs of abating. Bank boards will need to develop their philosophies, programs and policies with an acknowledgement of emerging regulations and perspectives. Board composition and processes such as member education, evaluation, nomination and independence will gain focus. Executive pay levels and performance alignment will continue to be scrutinized based on new disclosures mandated by Dodd-Frank. The spotlight on pay and governance is not winding down, but rather widening and both the compensation and governance committees will need to spend more time addressing these issues in the years to come.

Playing Your Cards Right With Executive Compensation Disclosures


proxy-season-11-13-15.pngAs the 2015 calendar gets shorter, are you hedging bets that your next Compensation Discussion & Analysis (CD&A) will wow shareholders and ensure a strong say-on-pay vote next year? Or are you hoping to bluff your way through the next proxy season? Between regulatory changes and a high level of public scrutiny, it’s never too early to begin focusing on your executive compensation disclosures. 

Why Communication Strategy Matters More Than Ever
Effectively communicating your compensation plan and its link to the bank’s business and leadership strategies is a growing priority among boards and management teams. As we all know, executive compensation—and the regulation surrounding it—is increasingly complex. A well-planned and artfully delivered disclosure document can improve chances of a favorable say-on-pay outcome and potentially bolster your defenses against shareholder activism. At a minimum, it can help improve overall shareholder engagement and build communication between the board, management and other stakeholders.

The Ante: Emerging Compliance Requirements
Unfortunately, the Dodd-Frank Act’s many provisions are still looming and it’s only a question of time before the final proposals on matters such as the CEO pay ratio, pay-for-performance, and clawbacks are implemented. These fast-changing rules can make it difficult to keep up from a communication perspective. How might these new mandates complicate or conflict with your compensation strategy and how can a public bank ensure they’re fully compliant, while delivering the most effective story to shareholders and employees about the executive pay programs?

Remember—balance is the key. With so many requirements coming, it will be necessary to offset the potential complication of your message with clear details on your compensation design and its alignment with the bank’s business strategy. Within the regulatory context, there’s an opportunity to discuss:

  • How executive compensation supports your business strategy and leadership talent goals;
  • How compensation is defined;
  • How performance is viewed;
  • How sound governance and risk management is practiced; and
  • What you pay your executives and why.

It’s not just public banks that face these issues. While private entities aren’t required to disclose, many feel the resulting public pressure to communicate more and can benefit from the following guidelines.

The Winning Hand: Moving Beyond Compliance to Tell Your Story
Obviously, compliance is important, but companies need to continue shifting program design focus from compliance to a compensation philosophy that supports the long-term business strategy.

Results from Pearl Meyer’s 2015 OnPoint Survey: The New Normal of Annual Compensation Disclosure, offer several points to consider as you begin the CD&A development process. Perhaps most surprising is that ”reader-friendliness” of the CD&A is just as important to compensation committees as technical accuracy. In fact, making the content easier to read/understand ranked as the number one request compensation committees make to staff regarding the CD&A. Survey results also indicate those companies who rate their CD&A as “excellent” or “very good” experience a higher percentage of yes votes for say-on-pay from shareholders than companies who don’t rate their CD&A as high.

There are three ways to ensure you “win the hand” in regards to your pay communications to shareholders:

  1. Take advantage of emerging trends for content and design.  There have been big changes over the past five years in how information about pay is presented within the CD&A. Content needs to be accurate, complete and concise while keeping in mind that shareholders are the target audience. Incorporating elements such as executive summaries and visuals that illustrate year-over-year pay levels, mix of variable versus fixed pay, and realizable/realized pay help organize the story and pull the reader through the document. The survey results show a clear pattern: companies with favorable views of their communication use these methods far more than companies who believe their CD&A is only fair or needs improvement.
  2. Leverage the experts to develop and deploy your message. Using internal corporate communications practitioners, graphic designers, and external writers can be worth the expense. Survey results show that companies who have relied on communication experts to help develop content typically have excellent or very good communication effectiveness and almost 80 percent of these companies are using at least one professional resource.
  3. Adjust your timeframe. The quality of executive compensation disclosure is more important today than ever and the quantity of information required is growing. Therefore, it it’s never too early to get started! Our survey confirmed that those who began working on their disclosures before the close of the fiscal year reported excellent or very good communication effectiveness. It’s a safe bet to follow their lead.

Taking this disciplined approach to communicating the value of your programs should pay off in the long-term and can help your board successfully move ahead with strategy-based design.

Keeping Your Compensation Committee On Track During the Busy Winter Season


executive-compensation-11-11-15.pngThe Dodd-Frank Act, regulatory guidelines on compensation risk and shareholder advisory votes on executive compensation have all contributed to an increase in the compensation committee’s responsibilities and time requirements. That pressure is compounded this time of year as committees enter their “busy season.” The fourth quarter is the start of many critical and often scrutinized committee activities: reviewing performance, approving 2015 incentive awards and developing 2016 performance incentive plans.  This article provides a sample full year committee calendar and a checklist of activities and actions compensation committees should be focusing on during Q4 2015 and Q1 2016.

It is best practice for compensation committees to define and schedule their annual activities for the year in advance. A well-defined calendar helps members better plan and prepare for the critical, and often timely, decisions that are required. There are three key cycles to the annual calendar: Assessment, Program Design and Pay Decisions.

Assessment occurs during the more “quiet” months following the prior year’s performance cycle where pay decisions are made, but before the start of the next performance cycle when a new program starts. For companies whose fiscal year follows the calendar year, this typically occurs between June and October (following most public company annual meetings). While there may be less pressure to approve and take action during this time, the analysis conducted during this phase will be critical for decisions made later in the year. Compensation committees should use this time to reflect on the pay program and decisions of the prior year and assess peer, market and regulatory trends that might influence programs in the coming year. This is a perfect time to conduct robust tally sheets, assess the pay and performance of your company relative to peers, conduct peer/competitive benchmarking, and if you are a public company, review say-on-pay results and conduct shareholder outreach. Information reviewed during this phase provides the foundational knowledge needed for the upcoming design and decision cycles.

Program Design typically occurs in the late fall and early winter (e.g. November–January), when compensation committees review the assessment phase results and begin defining total pay opportunities and programs for the upcoming year (i.e. base salary, annual and long-term incentive opportunities and performance goals). Compensation committees should pay careful attention to performance metric selection and goal setting to ensure proper pay-performance alignment. It is also critical to ensure the incentive plans support sound risk management practices. Many banks will complete their annual incentive risk review at this time. This is also an opportune time to consider implementing or revising compensation policies or practices, perhaps in light of shareholder feedback.

Pay Decisions occur in the late winter (e.g. January–April). During this phase, performance evaluations are conducted and decisions are made related to incentive payouts. Pay opportunities for the new year are also set, including annual incentive opportunities and long-term incentive grants. All banks should have conducted their risk assessment review by this time as well. Once Section 956 of the Dodd-Frank Act is finalized, banks will be required to provide documentation of their risk review to regulators. For companies whose fiscal year ends at the end of the year, this will occur during the same timeframe, in the late winter or early spring. This is also a very busy time for public companies that are required to document the prior year’s pay decisions in the proxy in preparation for shareholder review. Many committees spend several meetings discussing these issues.

Periodic activities include, but are not limited to: executive and board succession planning, incentive risk assessment, board and committee evaluations, consultant evaluations, benefit plan review, employment agreement/severance arrangement review and shareholder engagement.

Ongoing updates throughout the year include incentive payout projections and regulatory updates.

Below is an illustration of a typical compensation committee annual cycle with a check list of key activities for Q4 and Q1:

Today’s environment of increased scrutiny on executive compensation and governance requires compensation committees to spend more time fulfilling their responsibilities. Having a well-planned calendar, with a heightened focus on the “off season” assessment activities, can help committees be better prepared for the many critical year-end decisions.

*Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code allows public companies to deduct performance-based compensation above $1 million if it meets specific requirements.

Compensation for Privately Owned Banks: What to Know


incentive-plan-11-9-15.pngPrivately held banks, including Subchapter S banks as well as mutuals, are no different than publicly traded banks in their efforts to provide meaningful compensation plans for their key officers. Privately held banks must compete with public banks when attracting and retaining key officers and producers.

Publicly held banks typically offer restricted stock or incentive stock options to key employees. This is much more difficult for privately held banks due to a lack of available shares or illiquidity of the stock. Therefore, privately owned banks competing for talent often require more creativity.

While some privately held banks offer stock options, restricted stock or restricted stock units (RSUs), these types of plans are uncommon. Rather, privately held banks that want to provide rights of ownership to executives often use synthetic equity such as Phantom Stock Plans (PSPs) and Stock Appreciation Rights (SAR) plans. While these plans have an earnings impact to the bank, they do not have a per-share dilution as no actual shares are issued.

Competition for top talent is strong. Assuming the bank offers a competitive salary and an annual incentive plan, the challenge is the ability to offer a long-term incentive/retirement plan. The following types of plans are often used to attract and retain key executives and include:

  • Supplemental executive retirement plans (SERP) can be designed to address an executive’s shortfall that would result if the executive only had social security and the bank’s qualified plan to provide retirement income. Generally, under the terms of a SERP, an institution will promise to pay a future retirement benefit to an executive separate from any company-sponsored qualified retirement plan. The benefit is typically expressed as a fixed annual dollar amount or as a percentage of final compensation.
  • Deferred compensation plans (DCP) allow the bank to make contributions to the executive’s account using a fixed dollar amount, fixed percentage of the executive’s compensation, or a variable amount using a performance-based methodology. The DCP can also allow the executive to defer his or her current compensation.
  • Split dollar plans allow the bank and the insured executive to share the benefits of a specific BOLI (Bank-Owned Life Insurance) policy or policies upon the death of the insured. The agreement may state that the benefit terminates at separation from service or it may allow the executive to retain the life insurance benefit after retirement if certain vesting requirements are met.
  • Survivor-income plans/death benefit-only plans specify that the bank will pay a benefit to the executive’s survivors (beneficiaries) upon his or her death. The benefit may be paid in a lump sum or in annual payments over a specified time period. Typically, the bank will purchase BOLI to provide death proceeds to the bank as a hedge against the obligation the bank has to the beneficiaries. The benefits are paid directly from the general assets of the bank.

Picking the right plan design is only part of the process. Striking the proper balance between making the plan attractive to executives but not excessively expensive to the company are also significant factors when designing the benefit plan. Nonqualified plans can be customized to each executive, avoiding a cookie cutter approach by allowing flexibility in the amount of the benefit, vesting schedule, non-compete provisions, timing of payments and duration of payments. For example, assume you provide a substantial retirement benefit to a 40-year-old executive, but provide no vesting until age 65. The executive will likely not see it as a valuable benefit since most 40-year-olds think they will retire long before age 65. Likewise, if the executive is fully vested at age 55, the executive may not be motivated to stay past that age.

The plan must also provide a fair benefit upon death, disability and change in control. The payment terms can be customized to fit the needs of the executive while remaining in compliance with IRC Section 409A of the tax code. A properly designed nonqualified plan can enhance the bank’s bottom line by attracting and retaining top talent, but doing so in a way that is cost-efficient to the bank.

With over 30 years of history, BOLI has proven to be an effective tool to help offset and recover benefit expenses. While many public banks purchase BOLI to recover the cost of general benefit liabilities only, many privately held banks purchase BOLI for the same reason, but also include recovering the cost of nonqualified plans. BOLI is a tax-advantaged asset whereby every $1 of premium equates to $1 of cash surrender value (CSV) on the bank’s balance sheet. The CSV is expected to grow every month and earnings are booked as non-interest income on a tax preferred basis. From a cash flow perspective, BOLI is a long-term accrual asset that will return cash flow to the bank upon the death of the respective insured(s). BOLI is an investment asset that currently generates a return in the range of 2.50 percent to 3.50 percent after all expenses are deducted, which translates into a tax equivalent yield of 4.03 percent to 5.65 percent (assuming a 38 percent tax bracket).

Summary
Privately held banks must compete with all types of organizations for talent. Their future is dependent on their level of success in attracting and retaining key executives. The use of nonqualified plans, when properly chosen and correctly designed, can make a major impact on enhancing long-term shareholder value.

Equias Alliance offers securities through ProEquities, Inc. member FINRA & SIPC. Equias Alliance is independent of ProEquities, Inc.

How to Set Performance Metrics that Drive Success


incentive-pay-10-12-15.pngGenerally bank incentive programs reward team members for the achievement of bank-wide financial results. However, important goals which actually build value, such as customer retention, operational improvements and talent management, are often overlooked. Strategy-based compensation marries a bank’s compensation programs with its business strategy, rewarding team players for performance which results in the achievement of strategic objectives. A helpful tool in designing a program that works is a strategic road map, which clearly identifies activities and players needed to achieve results and create value for your organization.

Creating Your Strategic Road Map
The foundation of strategy-based compensation is an understanding at all levels of the organization as to which activities are required to achieve the stated objectives. A road map to execution will identify the focal points—financial/capital requirements, customer consideration, technology needs and the alignment of talent—as well as the value drivers to push success. Laying out your strategy demonstrates team placement and individual responsibilities within the broad scheme. The illustration below is a hypothetical strategic map for a community bank. Efforts in talent management, operation process, and customer satisfaction ultimately drive the desired financial outcome: growth in income and shareholder value.

Incentive Design Considerations
Among banks, executive incentive plans typically measure bank-wide performance across three buckets:

  • Balance sheet goals (e.g. growth in loans and deposits);
  • Earnings (e.g. return on assets and/or equity); and
  • Portfolio quality (e.g. regulatory ratings, non-performing assets, and/or net charge-offs).

As demonstrated in the strategic map above, these financial metrics are outcome-based and generally reflect the results of efforts. Limiting the overall focus of incentive plans to financial objectives potentially limits the program’s ability to reward and motivate the actions required to realize the success of the business strategy. Forward-looking organizations support differentiating their incentive programs beyond the typical financial focus.

From an executive perspective, incentive plans can incorporate value-driving performance metrics such as:

  • Growth in deposits from new accounts;
  • Expansion of lending activities specifically tied to new markets;
  • Identification of acquisitions;
  • Increases in operating efficiencies, new technology platforms;
  • Demonstration of robust succession planning efforts beyond; and
  • Customer satisfaction and usage.

Below the executive level, team members should be rewarded for areas within the strategic map that they can directly impact. For example, branch managers or operation officers are instrumental in increasing efficiencies and improving customer experiences. However, these individuals have limited line of sight and impact on loan growth or capital requirements. Linkage of incentives to particular elements of the strategy map drives towards the stated strategic outcome.

Goal Setting
Equally as important in the incentive design process is setting performance goals. Designing an incentive plan to drive performance beyond the day-to-day requires setting goals with sufficient stretch to push superior market performance. Testing where your target performance goals sit relative to your bank’s and your peers’ past performance, as well as market expectations, demonstrates the rigor of your goals. For example, from a financial perspective, is the achievement of your loan growth target a walk in the park or a more difficult and dramatic home run?

In addition, setting performance goals requires an understanding of the timelines for execution. The strategic map should illustrate the milestones required to execute your objectives and your short- and long-term incentive programs should align accordingly. For example, entry into a new market may require the identification of a branch to acquire or new construction, as well as staffing. The time frame required to complete these activities and their successful deployment is likely to vary and may not be easily compartmentalized in a typical incentive plan performance period of one or three years. The most successful incentive program designs will demonstrate a level of flexibility.

Driving Performance Beyond the Day-to-Day
Incentive programs are powerful tools when designed properly. The program’s design should dovetail with your business objectives, timeframes, and lines of sight among participants. Further, these programs should be frequently monitored, reviewed, and revised as appropriate to ensure they support your bank’s evolving strategic objectives, thereby driving performance beyond the day-to-day.

Taking the Fear out of Phantom Stock


The use of equity compensation has increased in the banking industry in recent years, coinciding with enhanced compensation guidelines from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), bank regulators, and the Dodd-Frank Act. These parties recommend that some executive compensation be deferred and tied to long-term performance. Equity programs typically accomplish both of these goals. A recent study of 177 public banks from Blanchard Consulting Group’s internal database found that the use of equity grants as a percentage of total compensation increased two to three times from 2009 to 2013, depending on the asset size of the bank.

Asset Size 2009 Proportion of Equity to Total Compensation 2013 Proportion of Equity to Total Compensation
Over $1B 15% 26%
$500M to $1B 4% 12%
Under $500M 4% 7%

Most publicly traded banks will use compensation plans tied to the organization’s stock to distribute long-term incentives in the form of stock options or restricted stock. Some private or thinly traded banks will use these types of “real” stock programs; however, many of these banks have limited availability of actual stock. As an alternative, private banks may use synthetic equity, such as phantom stock or stock appreciation rights, which are settled in cash.

Phantom stock programs are modeled to look and feel like restricted stock, where the participant receives the full value of the share plus any appreciation over time. The value of phantom stock is typically linked to the company’s stock price or book value per share. In addition, dividends could be factored into the phantom stock value during the vesting period, typically 3-5 years. Ultimately, the phantom stock awards will be settled in cash.

Advantages to Synthetic Equity
Banks concerned with equity dilution often prefer phantom stock, which provides a value comparable to that of restricted stock, but does not result in actual equity dilution. The value of the phantom stock is paid out in cash upon vesting, so the officer still receives value commensurate with having a real share of stock. Because phantom stock is settled in cash, it does not receive equity-based accounting treatment (value fixed at grant date). Instead, the expense is adjusted over time to reflect changes in the bank’s stock price or book value. The advantage of using phantom stock is the absence of any share dilution.

Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs) are another form of synthetic equity that are settled in cash. Cash SARs work similarly to stock options, as SARs give the participant the right to any appreciation in stock price or book value between the grant date and settlement. The appreciation value is paid in cash and taxed as ordinary income. Similar to phantom stock, cash SARs do not receive equity-based accounting treatment. The SARs are re-valued periodically, and the expense is adjusted to reflect the changes in value throughout the vesting period. This could lead to expensive accruals if the underlying stock price increases dramatically. Similar to phantom stock, there is no share dilution.

Other Considerations
Before implementing any type of equity or long-term incentive plan, a bank should consider a number of factors, such as the following:

  1. Performance-based awards: In today’s environment, equity awards are typically based on the achievement of bank-wide, department and/or individual goals.
  2. Service vesting: We typically see three to five-year vesting schedules within the banking industry. The vesting schedule may vary by grant or employee based on the bank’s retention goals.
  3. Dividends: The board should determine when and if the plan participant will receive value for dividends. This provision can be customized by the bank for each eligible employee.
  4. Termination of employment: If a participant voluntarily terminates employment during the plan term, the employee typically forfeits any unvested awards.
  5. Death or disability: Most banks will accelerate vesting and allow the participant or beneficiary to exercise shares in the event of a disability or executive’s death. All early disbursements will need to comply with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) restrictions (section 409A).
  6. Change-in-control: Shares will typically vest immediately and be paid upon the acquisition or merger of the bank if an employee is terminated as a result, also known as a “double trigger”.
  7. Clawback provision: This allows the bank to recoup incentive compensation payments made to plan participants in error from any unvested phantom stock or SAR grant.

In order to retain and attract talent, private banks need to ensure that they have the compensation tools available to compete with public banks that use real stock compensation. By using phantom stock or SARs settled in cash, private banks can help ensure that they are competitive with the market.

Trends Emerging in Compensation Policies for Bank Executives


Governance policies related to executive compensation are on the rise as a result of increased influence of bank regulators, shareholders and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These policies are intended to reduce compensation-related risk, encourage a long-term perspective and align executives with shareholder interests.

Meridian’s 2015 proxy research of banks with $10 billion to $400 billion in assets illustrates the prevalence of “standard” and “emerging” practices. Standard practices tend to be common regardless of asset size. Emerging practices are more prevalent at larger banks, but are likely to cascade to community banks over time.

Policies on Risk Adjusting Payoutsrisk-adjustment.PNG
Standard: Clawback Policies
Clawback policies allow the recovery of incentive compensation that has already been paid or vested when there has been a financial restatement and/or significant misconduct. Most banks currently have clawback policies; however, these may need to be revisited once the SEC issues final clawback rules. While many existing policies allow compensation committee discretion to seek recovery, the proposed rules (July 2015) would require a mandatory clawback of “excess” incentive pay in the event of an accounting restatement.

Emerging: Forfeiture Provisions
While clawback policies seek to recover awards already paid, forfeiture provisions provide for the reduction of incentive payouts and/or unvested awards based on negative risk outcomes such as  a lack of compliance with risk policies. While these provisions are standard at large banks that have faced significant regulatory scrutiny, they are only beginning to be used at smaller banks.

Policies on Use of Company Stockcompany-stock.PNG
Standard: Anti-Hedging Policies
Anti-hedging policies prevent executives and directors from participating in transactions that protect against or offset any decrease in the market value of company stock. Such transactions could create misalignment between shareholders and executives since executives would not suffer the same losses as shareholders if the share price drops.

The SEC’s proposed rule (issued February 2015) requires companies to disclose the types of hedging transactions (if any) allowed and the types prohibited for both employees and directors. As seen in our study, most banks already disclose formal anti-hedging policies.

Emerging: Pledging Policies
Pledging policies prevent or limit executives’ and directors’ ability to pledge company shares as collateral for loans. Pledged company stock creates a risk that executives may be forced to sell shares at a depressed stock price in order to raise cash to cover the loan margin, which could further the decline in stock price.

However, some companies allow limited pledging with pre-approval. Pledging enables executives to monetize share holdings without selling company stock. Since 2006, public companies have been required to disclose the amount of company stock pledged by executives and directors. Proxy advisory firms and shareholders typically criticize only significant levels of pledging.

Policies on Retention of Stock AwardsStock-retention.PNG
Standard: Stock Ownership Guidelines
Over 80 percent of banks in our study have stock ownership guidelines that require executives to maintain a minimum level of ownership. Ownership guidelines are typically defined as a multiple of base salary. For CEOs, the most common ownership requirement is five times base salary, while other executives range between one times and three times base salary.

Emerging: Post-Vesting Stock Holding Requirements
Many investors and shareholder advisory firms have started pushing for additional stock holding requirements. Holding requirements restrict executives from selling stock earned from equity awards or option exercises for a period of time after vesting or exercise. Some holding requirements require executives to hold a percentage of shares until ownership guidelines are met. More rigorous policies require executives to hold a percentage of shares for a set period of time (e.g., one year after vesting) or until (or even after) retirement.

Banks have been ahead of many industries in adopting these governance practices as a result of the regulatory scrutiny on compensation programs, and we expect the emerging practices will continue to gain in prevalence across banks of all sizes.

The Current Status of Dodd-Frank Act Compensation Rules


dodd-frank-8-17-15.pngWe have waited for five years since the Dodd-Frank Act became law and we are now seeing consistent movement to finalize several compensation provisions of the law.  

Meetings started in October with President Barack Obama gathering the heads of U.S. financial regulators and urging them to finish the Dodd-Frank rules. To date, we have already adopted Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules that include shareholder votes on executive compensation (Section 951 on say-on-pay and so-called golden parachutes), and on independence of compensation committees (Section 952). Remaining Dodd-Frank provisions, designed to regulate behavior encouraged by compensation structures, are Sections 953, 954, and 956. Already, many institutions have implemented more stringent variable pay plans since 2010, with more compensation tied to longer term performance. The current status of the rules is highlighted below.

Pay Versus Performance Disclosure, Section 953(a)
The proposal for section 953(a) is intended to provide compensation information to augment the say-on-pay vote for public companies. The proposal highlights a new form of realized pay versus reported pay as well as a comparison of the company and peer group total shareholder return (TSR) over several years. The proposed disclosure reflects the SEC’s attempt to help shareholders gain a better understanding of how executive pay compares to company performance by comparing named executive officers’ total compensation as described in the summary compensation table to what the SEC is now defining as compensation actually paid. As an example, the vested value of equity will be incorporated into the actually paid definition versus the value of equity at grant date. Also, the new rule uses total shareholder return (TSR) as the performance measure comparing performance to compensation “actually paid,” and using TSR of a company’s peer group to provide additional context for the company’s performance. In addition, companies will be required to provide a clear description of the relationship between the compensation actually paid and cumulative TSR for each of the last five completed fiscal years.

Current Status of Rulemaking: We expect either a final, or re-proposed rule, by fall, 2015.

Pay Ratio Disclosure, Section 953(b)
The SEC finalized this rule in August, 2015, with implementation deferred to fiscal years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The rule requires that public companies disclose the ratio of the CEO’s total compensation to the total compensation of all other employees. For example, if the CEO’s compensation was 45 times the median of all other employees, it can be listed as a ratio (1 to 45) or as a narrative. Total compensation for all employees has to be calculated the same way the CEO’s is calculated for the proxy. All employees means all full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees.

Current Status of Rulemaking: The SEC finalized the rule on August 5, 2015. The first disclosure is expected for 2017 fiscal year as shown in proxy statements filed in 2018.

Clawbacks, Section 954
Section 954 is often referred to as the “clawback” provision of Dodd-Frank and applies to all public companies. The proposal requires companies set policies to revoke incentive-based compensation from top executives with a restatement of earnings if the compensation was based on inaccurate financial statements. The company has to take back the amount of compensation above what the executive would have been paid based on the restated financial statements. This rule applies to public company Section 16 officers, generally any executive with policy making powers. Variable compensation that is based upon financial metrics as well as total shareholder return would need to be clawed back, and there is a three year look-back for current and former executives.

Current Status of Rulemaking: Expect final rules in fall, 2015; once final from SEC, stock exchanges will create the listing rule and an effective date (expected late 2016 or early 2017).

Enhanced Compensation Structure Reporting, Section 956
This rule was proposed in April, 2011—more than four years ago. This rule applies to financial institutions, specifically banks greater than $1 billion in assets. The rule is primarily a codification of the principles as found in joint regulatory Guidance on Sound Incentive Compensation Policies, which stated that compensation needs to be:

  • Balanced to both risk and reward over a long-term horizon
  • Compatible with effective controls and risk management, and
  • Supported by strong corporate governance.

In addition, there is an annual reporting requirement and for large banks (greater than $50 billion in assets), there is a mandatory deferral of incentive pay. Given that there have been four years since the original proposal, we are expecting a number of changes as the global regulatory structures have changed greatly since 2011.

Current Status of Rulemaking: Originally proposed in April 2011, changes are expected to be re-proposed in 2015.

BOLI Administration: What Comes Next?



Setting up the right Bank-Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) policy is only part of the story. What happens over the life of the policy is important, too. In this informative video, Jim Calla of Meyer-Chatfield explains how proper maintenance and reporting can make the most of this product.

  • Why is proper BOLI administration an important issue for banks?
  • What are the characteristics of a good BOLI administrator?

Employee Stock Ownership Plans: Another Tool for Family-Owned Banks


ESOP-06-19-15.pngToday’s economy presents numerous challenges to community bank profitability—compressed net interest margins, increased regulation, and management teams fatigued by the crisis. In response to these obstacles, many boards of directors are exploring new ways to reduce expenses, retain qualified management teams, and offer opportunities for liquidity to current shareholders short of a sale or merger of the institution.

For many family-owned banks, their deep roots in the community and a desire to see their banks thrive under continued family ownership into future generations can cause these challenges to be felt even more acutely. In particular, recruiting and retaining the “next generation” of management can be difficult. Cash compensation is often not competitive with the compensatory packages offered by publicly-traded institutions, and equity awards for management officials are unattractive given the limited liquidity of the underlying stock. All the while, these institutions should ensure that their owners have reasonable assurances of liquidity as needs arise or as investment preferences change. In combination, these challenges can often overwhelm a family-owned bank’s desire to remain independent.

Depending on the condition of the institution, implementing an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, may help a board address many of these challenges. While the ESOP is first a means of extending stock ownership to the institution’s employees, an ESOP can have other applications for family-owned banks.

Recruitment and Retention
An obvious benefit of an ESOP is to provide management and employees the ability to participate in an increase in the value of the bank, aligning their interests with those of shareholders. An equity interest provides economic incentives to join or stay with the bank and the ownership interest provided by ESOPs to employees has been shown to improve workforce productivity and morale.

Source of Liquidity for Shareholders
Without significant trading activity in their stock, shareholders of a closely-held institution may seek a liquidity event, which can include the sale of their shares to a third party or a merger with another bank. For these institutions, using the ESOP as part of a stock repurchase plan or to buy out selected shareholders can provide a buyer for large blocks of stock at a reasonable price.

For family-owned institutions, the tax benefits associated with a sale of a family’s interest in the institution to management via an ESOP are considerable. Most individual sellers of stock to an ESOP (and some trusts) qualify for a tax-free rollover of the proceeds of that sale into domestic stocks and bonds of U.S. corporations which meet certain limits on passive income. Under certain circumstances, this tax-free rollover opportunity avoids all federal income and capital gain taxes on the sale of shares to an ESOP.

In order to fund large purchases, the ESOP can take on a limited amount of leverage in order to acquire more shares in a particular year than can otherwise be allocated to plan participants. Before taking on this leverage, the bank should carefully consider how much leverage it can actually handle relative to the contributions that are expected to be made to the ESOP.

Special Benefits for S Corporations
ESOPs can also reduce shareholder numbers to facilitate a company’s conversion to an S corporation, which can help significant shareholders avoid the double taxation of dividends that apply to C corporations. Under the Internal Revenue Code, an ESOP counts as only a single shareholder for purposes of S corporation limitations, no matter how many employees have shares allocated to their accounts in the ESOP. Upon a plan participant’s separation from service from the institution, the participant may be entitled to only the cash value of the shares, rather than the shares themselves.

ESOPs also benefit from the S corporation status given their exemption from federal and most state income taxes. Since ESOPs are tax-exempt entities, they do not pay income taxes on their share of the institutions’ income like other shareholders do. When S corporations make distributions to their shareholders, ESOPs can retain that distribution, giving a better return to the ESOP participants. Additionally the cash reserves held in the ESOP from these distributions can be used to pay down ESOP debt incurred to buy shares for the ESOP, fund additional stock purchases by the ESOP, or to fund employee withdrawals from the ESOP.

For a variety of reasons, ESOPs can help family-owned financial institutions better manage the challenges of today’s market by providing a more liquid market for the institution’s shares and an exit strategy for some significant investors short of a sale or merger. ESOPs can also improve employee and senior management engagement and retention at a relatively low cost, which can improve the institution’s bottom line. With careful implementation and board oversight of compliance efforts, ESOPs can be a powerful tool for many community banks.