The July 1st Compliance Date for Certain of the New NASDAQ and NYSE Compensation Committee Rules is Around the Corner

On January 11, 2013, the SEC approved proposed changes to the listing standards of the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ Stock Market related to compensation committees. Both exchanges created transition periods to comply with the new rules. We want to remind companies that the following new requirements take effect on July 1, 2013[1]:

Compensation Committee Charter Amendments

NASDAQ and NYSE listed companies will be required to comply with the new rules relating to the authority of a compensation committee to retain compensation consultants, legal counsel, and other compensation advisers; the authority to fund such advisers; and the responsibility of the committee to consider independence factors before selecting, or receiving advice from, such advisers[2].

NASDAQ.  The requirement that such authority and responsibilities of the compensation committee be included in the compensation committee’s written charter does not apply until a later date (see below) for NASDAQ listed companies.  Accordingly, NASDAQ listed companies should consider whether to grant such specific responsibilities and authority by July 1, 2013 through the adoption of a charter, the amendment to an existing charter, or by resolution or other board action. The requirement to adopt a compensation committee charter will not have to be complied with by NASDAQ listed companies until the earlier of their first annual meeting after January 15, 2014, or October 31, 2014.

NYSE NYSE listed companies will have to amend their existing charters by July 1, 2013 to address these additional rights and responsibilities of the compensation committee related to compensation consultants, legal counsel, and other compensation advisers.

Assessing the Independence of Compensation Consultants

The new NASDAQ and NYSE rules provide that the compensation committee may only select, or receive advice from, a compensation consultant, legal counsel, or other compensation adviser after considering the following factors[3]:

  • the provision of other services to the company by the person that employs the adviser;
  • the amount of fees received from the company by the person or firm that employs the adviser, as a percentage of the total revenue of the person or firm that employs the adviser;
  • the policies and procedures of the person or firm that employs the adviser that are designed to prevent conflict of interests;
  • any business or personal relationship of the adviser with a member of the compensation committee;
  • any stock of the company owned by the adviser; and
  • any business or personal relationships between the executive officers of the company and the adviser or the person or firm employing the adviser.

Compensation committees must conduct an independence assessment for all of its advisers, with limited exceptions for in-house counsel and compensation advisers that act in a role limited to (i) consulting on broad-based plans that are generally applicable to all salaried employees, or (ii) providing information that is either not customized for the issuer or that is customized based on parameters that are not developed by the adviser, and about which the adviser does not provide advice.

We note that in evaluating compensation committee adviser independence, the NYSE requires consideration of all factors relevant to an adviser’s independence from management, in addition to the six enumerated factors listed above. NASDAQ does not have a similar catch-all requirement.

Both NASDAQ and NYSE listed companies should assess the independence of their current advisers prior to July 1, 2013.  Ordinarily, this assessment will be performed before a potential adviser is selected and will then be re-assessed on an annual basis.  We would suggest utilizing a compensation committee questionnaire to solict information from the compensation consultant in order to complete this assessment. 

 


[1] The new compensation committee independence requirements do not need to be complied with by NASDAQ or NYSE listed companies until the earlier of their first annual meeting after January 15, 2014, or October 31, 2014. Nevertheless,  NASDAQ and NYSE listed companies should begin preparing to comply with such new independence requirements. 

 

[2] To the extent a NASDAQ listed company does not have a compensation committee by July 1, 2013, this requirement will apply to the independent directors who determine, or recommend for the board’s determination, the compensation of the CEO and other executive officers of the company.

 

[3] To the extent a NASDAQ listed company does not have a compensation committee by July 1, 2013, this requirement will apply to the independent directors who determine, or recommend for the board’s determination, the compensation of the CEO and other executive officers of the company.

 

When Do You Need to Start Complying With New NASDAQ and NYSE Compensation Committee Rules?

On January 11, 2013, the SEC approved proposed changes to the listing standards of the New York Stock Exchange LLC and NASDAQ Stock Market LLC related to compensation committees. Both exchanges created transition periods to comply with the new rules.

As of July 1, 2013, NASDAQ and NYSE listed companies will be required to comply with the new rules relating to the authority of a compensation committee to retain compensation consultants, legal counsel, and other compensation advisers; the authority to fund such advisers; and the responsibility of the committee to consider independence factors before selecting such advisers. The requirement that such authority and responsibilities of the compensation committee be included in the compensation committee’s written charter does not apply until a later date (see below) for NASDAQ listed companies and such companies should consider under state corporate law whether to grant such specific responsibilities and authority through a charter, resolution or other board action. In contrast, NYSE listed companies will have to amend their existing charters as of July 1, 2013 to address these additional rights and responsibilities of the compensation committee related to compensation consultants, legal counsel, and other compensation advisers. To the extent a NASDAQ listed company does not have a compensation committee by July 1, 2013, these requirements will apply to the independent directors who determine, or recommend for the board’s determination, the compensation of the CEO and other executive officers of the company.

The remaining new rules, for example, compensation committee charter and independence standards for compensation committee members, will not have to be complied with by NASDAQ listed companies until the earlier of their first annual meeting after January 15, 2014, or October 31, 2014.

NYSE listed companies will have until the earlier of their first annual meeting after January 15, 2014, or October 31, 2014, to comply with the new standards for compensation committee director independence.

NASDAQ Has Proposed Changes to Its Compensation Committee Rules. What Should We Do Now?

If you work for a Nasdaq-listed company, you should pay close attention to Nasdaq’s proposal related to compensation committees rules.  The proposal was issued last week in response to the SEC’s Rule 10C-1 and Section 952 of the Dodd-Frank Act that required the SEC to direct the national securities exchanges to prohibit the listing of any equity security of an issuer, subject to certain exemptions, that does not comply with the Act’s requirements relating to compensation committees and compensation advisers. 

 Summary of Nasdaq’s Proposal

 Generally, Nasdaq has proposed the following changes to its compensation committee rules:

  •  companies must have a compensation committee consisting of at least two members, each of whom must be an independent director as defined in Nasdaq’s current listing rules;
  • compensation committee members must not accept directly or indirectly any consulting, advisory or other compensatory fee, other than for board service, from a company or any subsidiary thereof;
  • in determining whether a director is eligible to serve on a compensation committee, a company’s board of directors must consider whether the director is affiliated with the company, a subsidiary of the company or an affiliate of a subsidiary of the company; and
  •  companies must adopt a formal, written compensation committee charter that must specify, among other matters, the compensation committee responsibilities and authority as set forth in Rule 10C-1 relating to the: (i) authority to retain compensation consultants, independent legal counsel and other compensation advisers; (ii) authority to fund such advisers; and (iii) responsibility to consider certain independence factors before selecting such advisers, other than in-house legal counsel.

 Effective Dates

 Proposed Nasdaq Listing Rule 5605(d)(3), which requires compensation committees to have the specific responsibilities and authority relating to compensation consultants, independent legal counsel and other compensation advisers, will be effective immediately upon the SEC’s approval of the Nasdaq’s proposal. 

 Nasdaq-listed companies must comply with the remaining amended listing rules described aboveby the earlier of: (1) their second annual meeting held after the date of approval of the proposed rules; or (2) December 31, 2014.  A company must certify to Nasdaq, no later than 30 days after the implementation deadline applicable to it, that it complied with the amended listing rules on compensation committees (Nasdaq will provide a form for this certification).

 What Should We Do Now?

 Please see below a list of suggested action items in connection with such proposals:

  1.  If you do not have a compensation committee and a majority of independent directors is making, or recommending to the board, compensation decisions related to executive officers of the company, start evaluating potential candidates for compensation committee membership.
  2. If you have a compensation committee consisting of one director, start evaluating potential candidates to expand the compensation committee to two members, as suggested by the SEC, or even to three members in order to avoid giving each director a veto power.
  3. Consider whether existing members of the compensation committee or potential members of the compensation committee are getting any compensatory fees from the company or any of its subsidiaries or are affiliated with the company or a subsidiary of the company or an affiliate of a subsidiary of the company.  Evaluate whether any changes to the current composition of the compensation committee are necessary.
  4. Implement new responsibilities and authority applicable to compensation committees, or independent directors involved in compensation decisions, relating to: (i) authority to retain compensation consultants, independent legal counsel and other compensation advisers; (ii) authority to fund such advisers; and (iii) responsibility to consider certain independence factors before selecting such advisers through a charter amendment or board resolution.
  5. Draft a new, or revise an existing, compensation committee charter.

 

NYSE Proposes New Rules Related to Compensation Committee and Committee Adviser Independence

Earlier this week, the NYSE filed proposed rule changes with the SEC related to compensation committee independence and the hiring of compensation advisers.  The NYSE proposed such rules to comply with Exchange Act Rule 10C-1 adopted in June.  Rule 10C-1 requires national securities exchanges to adopt listing standards which effectuate the compensation committee and committee adviser independence requirements of Section 952 of the Dodd-Frank Act.   The NYSE’s proposed rules do not expand upon or vary much from the SEC rules.  The NYSE proposed to have its new listing standards effective on July 1, 2013; however, companies would have until the earlier of their first annual meeting after January 15, 2014, or October 31, 2014, to comply with the such new standards.  Set forth below is a summary of the NYSE’s proposed rules:

 Compensation Committee Independence

The NYSE proposed rules do not establish any new bright line standards specific to compensation committee independence.  Instead, the NYSE proposed rules require that, in affirmatively determining the independence of any director who will serve on a compensation committee, a listed company’s board “consider all  factors specifically relevant to determining whether a director has a relationship to the listed company which is material to that director’s ability to be independent from management in connection with the duties of a compensation committee member, including, but not limited to, the two factors explicitly enumerated in Rule 10C-1(b)(ii)”:

  • the source of the director’s compensation, including any consulting, advisory or other compensatory fee paid by the listed company to such director; and
  • whether the director has an affiliate relationship with the listed company, a subsidiary of the listed company or an affiliate of a subsidiary of the listed company.

The proposing release specifically provides that the NYSE does not believe that board compensation should be considered as part of the independence determination.  Further, commentary to the proposed NYSE rules provides that “the board should consider whether the director receives compensation from any person or entity that would impair his ability to make independent judgments about the listed company’s executive compensation. Similarly, when considering any affiliate relationship a director has with the company, a subsidiary of the company, or an affiliate of a subsidiary of the company, in determining his independence for purposes of compensation committee service,. . . the board should consider whether the affiliate relationship places the director under the direct or indirect control of the listed company or its senior management, or creates a direct relationship between the director and members of senior management, in each case of a nature that would impair his ability to make independent judgments about the listed company’s executive compensation.”

 Compensation Committee Adviser Independence

The NYSE proposed rules related to compensation committee advisers provide that prior to hiring a compensation adviser, the compensation committee must consider the six factors set forth in Rule 10C-1(b)(4).  The NYSE proposed rules do not add any factors for a compensation committee to consider prior to hiring an adviser, as the “Exchange believes that the list included in Rule 10C-1(b)(4) is very comprehensive and the proposed listing standard would also require the compensation committee to consider any other factors that would be relevant to the adviser’s independence from management.”

The NYSE’s proposed new rules are subject to SEC review and comment.  We believe it is unlikely that the SEC will have many objections to the proposed rules, as they essentially mirror the SEC’s rules.  In light of the NYSE proposed rules, NYSE listed companies should be reviewing their compensation committee charters, the composition of the compensation committee and their relationships with the compensation advisers in order to identify whether any modifications or changes may be in order to comply with the coming NYSE standards.

How should companies evaluate whether there is a conflict of interest related to the compensation consultant’s work?

Tomorrow, on July 27, 2012, a new Regulation S-K, Item 407(e)(3)(iv), disclosure requirement focusing on the conflicts of interest of compensation consultants will become effective.  Item 407(e)(3)(iv) disclosure should be addressed in any proxy or information statement for a meeting of shareholders at which directors will be elected occurring on or after January 1, 2013.

Pursuant to the new requirement, public companies will have to disclose the nature of the conflict of interest, if any, related to the compensation consultant’s work on executive and director compensation and how the conflict of interest is being addressed.  To comply with this requirement, one of the threshold questions that a public company should ask is whether there is a conflict of interest.

In order to evaluate whether such conflict of interest exists, public companies should act now to establish controls and procedures for obtaining conflict of interest information. For example, the company should:

1. Establish internal procedures and processes to track:

(i)  all services provided to the company by the compensation consultant and the entity that employs the consultant starting from the last completed fiscal year; and

(ii) the amount of fees paid by the company to the entity that employs the compensation consultant.

2. Request from the compensation consultant, or from the entity that employs the consultant, the following information:

(i) the percentage that the amount of fees received from the company by the entity that employs the compensation consultant represents to the total revenue of such entit; and 

(ii) direct or indirect ownership of the company’s stock by the compensation consultant, and

(iii) policies and procedures of the entity that employs the compensation consultant that are designed to prevent conflicts of interest.

3. Add the following question to the company’s Directors’ and Officers’ Questionnaire:

Do you have a business or personal relationship with the compensation consultant or the entity employing the compensation consultant?   ___ Yes  ___ No         

If “yes,” please describe:

                                                                                                          

                                                                                                          

 

What has changed in compensation committee requirements and disclosures after the issuance of the new SEC release last week? What should we do now?

Due to the SEC’s adoption of a new Rule 10C-1, Listing Standards Relating to Compensation Committees, we are one step closer to having the mandate of Section 952 of the Dodd-Frank Act fully implemented and to securities exchanges adopting listing standards relating to the independence of the compensation committee members, the committee’s authority to retain compensation advisers, and the committee’s responsibility for the appointment, compensation and oversight of the work of a compensation adviser. Each national securities exchange must provide to the SEC proposed rules that comply with Rule 10C-1 no later than September 25, 2012 and must have final rules that comply with Rule 10C-1 no later than June 27, 2013.

Public companies will also have to comply with a new disclosure requirement related to the conflicts of interest of compensation consultants in any proxy statement for a meeting of shareholders at which directors will be elected occurring on or after January 1, 2013.  Pursuant to this new requirement under Item 407(e)(3)(iv) of Regulation S-K,  public companies will have to disclose the nature of the conflict of interest, if any, related to the compensation consultant’s work on executive and director compensation and how the conflict is being addressed. 

In addition to monitoring the rulemaking of national securities exchanges related to the implementation of Rule 10C-1 directives, public companies should consider taking the following actions in connection with the required analysis of the conflicts of interest related to the work of a compensation consultant:

  • establish procedures for obtaining information about (i) all services provided to the company by the compensation consultant and the entity that employs the consultant during the last completed fiscal year, (ii) the amount of fees received from the company by the entity that employs the compensation consultant as a percentage of the total revenue of such entity, and (iii) any stock of the company owned by the compensation consultant;
  • request and review the policies and procedures of the entity that employs the compensation consultant that are designed to prevent conflicts of interest; and
  • update directors’ and officers’ questionnaires to include questions related to the business or personal relationships of (i) the compensation consultant with a member of the compensation committee; and (ii) the compensation consultant, or the entity employing the compensation consultant, with an executive officer of the company.