Last week, the SEC Division of Examinations issued a risk alert describing observations from recent examinations of investment advisers that manage and offer ESG investment options.  The Risk Alert highlights observed deficiencies in several key areas that we expected the Staff to scrutinize using its traditional regulatory arsenal:  advisers’ practices inconsistent with ESG disclosures, unsubstantiated

Last week, John Coates, the Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”), released a statement discussing liability risks in de-SPAC transactions.

The statement focused in particular on the concern that companies may be providing overly optimistic projections in their de-SPAC disclosures, in part based on the assumption that such disclosures are protected by a statutory safe harbor for forward-looking statements (which is not available for traditional IPOs).  Director Coates’s statement questions whether that assumption is correct, arguing that de-SPAC transactions may be considered IPOs for the purposes of the statute (and thus fall outside the protection offered by the statutory safe harbor).  He therefore encourages SPACs to exercise caution in disclosing projections, including by not withholding unfavorable projections while disclosing more favorable projections.
Continue Reading Acting Director of SEC’s Corp Fin Issues Statement on Disclosure Risks Arising from De-SPAC Transactions

On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”)—formerly the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations—released its 2021 Examination Priorities (“2021 Priorities”).  The 2021 Priorities generally retain perennial risk areas as the Division’s core focus, but do include several new and emerging risk areas reflecting broader policy shifts under new SEC leadership.

The 2021 Priorities include:  retail investors; information security and operational resilience; financial technology (“Fintech”), including digital assets; anti-money laundering; transition from the London Inter‑Bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”); several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies; market infrastructure; and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies.  Although not formal priorities, the Division will also focus on climate-related risks and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters in light of recent market developments and broader attention in these areas.
Continue Reading Turning the Page: Highlights of the SEC’s Division of Examination’s 2021 Priorities

Over the past few years, many boards have expanded their oversight and consideration of human capital management (HCM) to encompass issues beyond executive hiring and compensation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, technology and the culture change brought by a new generation of workers had already commenced an irreversible shift in paradigm that established HCM as a board-level issue with vital strategic and risk oversight implications.
Continue Reading Fulfilling the Board’s Expanded Oversight Role in Human Capital Management

Stakeholder attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues continued to grow throughout 2020 driven by the COVID-19 pandemic (health and safety), the Black Lives Matter movement (diversity and inclusion) and worldwide wildfires (climate change), to name a few. Prodded by investors and other stakeholders, companies have increasingly realized the importance to their businesses of managing human capital and monitoring human rights, whether in respect of their own workforces or their supply and customer chains. Further, disclosure and engagement around companies’ human capital management (HCM) practices have become more important and even the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had in the past largely avoided specific ESG disclosure mandates, has weighed in and now requires disclosure regarding human capital resources in annual reports on Form 10-K.
Continue Reading ESG Considerations for Incentive Compensation Programs

A curious feature of the past three years has been the intertwined controversies over earnings guidance, corporate “short-termism” and the quarterly disclosure system. The discussion has been illuminating, and, while further regulatory attention now seems unlikely, the perils of neglecting the long-term will likely continue to color how analysts, regulators and investors view public companies and their disclosures.
Continue Reading The Short-Termism Debate

Diversity has long been a focus for both companies and stakeholders, but 2020 in particular saw diversity come to the forefront of stakeholders’ agendas. Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its disparate impacts on human capital, alongside increased focus on racial equity and justice and related unrest, we have seen key players across the board push to broaden the scope and impact of diversity issues in the corporate space.
Continue Reading Emphasis on Diversity Initiatives Broadens in Scope and Focuses on Impact

Corporate sustainability has in a few short years become a mainstream capital allocation and voting criterion for many institutional investors. As a consequence, those investors are calling for consistent, comparable and reliable sustainability disclosure capturing the risks and opportunities faced by the businesses in which they invest.
Continue Reading Corporate Sustainability: Moving Faster and Faster to the Center of Strategy and Shareholder Value

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, divisive politics and a historic social justice movement presented unprecedented challenges for boards. While the pandemic eliminated the concept of an in-person boardroom, as well as investor site visits, one-on-one meetings at conferences and strategy retreats, work did not slow, and most directors reported devoting significantly more time to their duties.
Continue Reading Shareholder Engagement Trends and Considerations