2014 Proxy Season Shows Increased Investor Attention to Board Composition and Director Accountability

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Ernst & Young LLP proxy season preview identifies top governance priorities for investors in 2014.

An emerging dynamic of the 2014 proxy season is the move toward a greater focus on board effectiveness. Investors—through direct engagement, letters to boards and shareholder proposals—are increasingly communicating their expectations around governance and for companies to more clearly explain their governance decisions and approach on key issues. These developments are raising the importance for companies to have proxy disclosures that tell a clear governance story and to have company-investor dialogues that are ongoing and constructive. Examining this evolving landscape, EY’s Center for Board Matters released a new report – 2014 Proxy season preview: Boards face shifting investor priorities and expectations– to provide boards and those who support them with timely, data-rich analysis of the areas of investor focus going into the proxy season.

“There’s a new paradigm in company-investor engagement in that it’s no longer reserved for times of crisis, and in some cases directors are increasingly playing a role. Companies are recognizing that a, constructive approach to engagement, particularly with long-term investors, can build trust and investor support,” said Allie Rutherford, Director of Corporate Governance in the EY Center for Board Matters.

Key governance priorities for investors this year include:

1.    Board composition and renewal: Investors are highlighting board composition and renewal as a priority in 2014, saying they want to know that the right people – those with qualification aligned with the company’s strategic goals, stakeholders and risk oversight needs – are in the boardroom. Investors are increasingly raising these topics in discussions with companies.

2.    Board structure and accountability: Investors list board structure and accountability as a priority and these investors are continuing to push for the annual election of all directors under a majority vote standard. Some investors are also looking to see that a board has a strong independent chair or lead director with clearly defined, robust responsibilities.

3.    Sustainability: Investors also include environmental and social topics as a key priority. Combined, these topics continue to represent the largest number of shareholder proposals submitted. Investors are focused on environmental sustainability and human rights and labor conditions, including across a company’s global supply chain. Shareholder requests for enhanced disclosure, monitoring and management of these sustainability related risks are growing.

4.    Executive compensation: More than 2400 companies with annual say-on-pay (SOP) votes will continue to gauge investor support for their compensation policies and practices, and 2014 will mark the second SOP vote for companies that elected triennial frequencies. Some shareholders also are submitting proposals targeting specific pay practices, such as to limit the accelerated vesting of equity awards and to adopt or enhance executive clawback policies, including asking for disclosure of when decisions to claw back pay have been made.

5.    Political and lobbying spending and oversight: A number of investors continue to prioritize requests for enhanced transparency and oversight around a company’s political and lobbying expenditures in the absence of SEC rulemaking on this topic. This year, shareholder proposal seeking board oversight and disclosure of political and lobbying expenditures are the most common in terms of numbers, with more than 120 submitted to companies across a wide range of size and industry.

For more information and to access to Proxy season 2014: Boards face shifting investor priorities and expectations and other reports, visit http://www.ey.com/US/en/Issues/Governance-and-reporting.

About The EY Center for Board Matters

Effective corporate governance is an important element in building a better working world. The EY Center for Board Matters is committed to bringing together and engaging with boards, audit committee members and investors to exchange ideas and insights. Using our professional competencies, relationships and proprietary corporate governance database, we are able to identify trends and emerging governance issues. This allows us to deliver timely and balanced insights, data-rich content and practical tools and analysis to boards, audit committees, institutional investors and others interested in governance topics.

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization and may refer to one or more of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. For more information about our organization, please visit ey.com.

This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member of the global EY organization that provides services to clients in the US.

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Lauren Condoluci
Ernst & Young U.S. LLP
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