A Review of Guideline Upates
On November 12, 2019 Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) published their Americas Proxy Voting Guidelines Updates for 2020 for the Americas region, which includes Canada and the United States. While GGA has summarized updates directly affecting U.S.-listed companies in a separate blog post, we are summarizing the key updates affecting Canadian-listed companies as it relates to compensation and governance below. These updates will impact any shareholder meetings held on or after February 1, 2020.
The updates are generally split into four separate categories:
- Ratification of Auditors
- Election of Directors (several updates)
- Equity-Based Compensation Plans for Venture companies
- Pay-for-Performance Analysis (use of Economic Value Added or “EVA”)
GGA’s summary of each change is provided below.
Ratification of Auditors (TSX and Venture)
ISS has historically excluded significant one-time capital restructuring events from “Other” fees when calculating whether “Other” fees are greater than Audit and Audit-related fees. Prior to the policy update, only three events fell under this exemption: 1) IPOs, 2) Emergence from bankruptcy, and 3) Spinoffs. ISS has now updated this policy so that these three restructuring events are part of a brief list of examples that fall under the policy. Other similar events not listed here that could fall under this exemption are M&A transactions and re-domiciling of a company. In all cases, ISS will scrutinize the disclosure around “Other” fees when determining whether the carve-out policy should apply.
Election of Directors
Excessive Non-Audit Fees (TSX and Venture)
Aligning with the new “Ratification of Auditors” policy update above, ISS has made it clear that in the event that the “Ratification of Auditors” resolution receives an “Against” recommendation, ISS will also recommend that shareholders vote Withhold for the members of the Audit Committee. This aligns both policies so that significant one-time capital restructuring events can be treated in the same way when making vote recommendations.
Policy Considerations for Majority Owned Companies (TSX and Venture)
ISS clarified that their majority-owned companies policy only applies to non-management directors. This clarifies ISS’ stance that regardless of whether a company is majority owned or not, executive directors should not be serving on the Audit and Compensation Committees.
The policy was designed to recognize that while director nominees that are controlling shareholders or represent controlling shareholders and not considered independent, their interests may still be aligned with other shareholders given the significant equity stake that they represent as controlling shareholder. By clarifying this policy, ISS has the right to support those directors serving on the Audit and/or Compensation Committee despite other policies that would suggest a Withhold recommendation for those directors based on ISS’ director independence requirements.
Director Attendance (TSX Only)
ISS’ director attendance policy relies upon the director attendance record provided by the issuer in order to evaluate whether directors have been fulfilling their commitments on the board. This is taken from a company’s most recent proxy circular with only TSX-listed issuers required to disclose director attendance. ISS clarified within its policy that it will exempt new publicly-listed issuers, recent graduates from a venture exchange to the TSX and director nominees who have not served an entire fiscal year on the board as a complete attendance record will not have been taken. ISS will continue to evaluate whether directors have attended at least 75% of the aggregate of board and key committee meetings such as Audit, Compensation and Nominating Committees held during the year in reviewing the commitment of directors.
Former CEO/CFO on Audit/Compensation Committee (TSX Only)
ISS has now aligned its voting policy for former CEOs and CFOs who sit on the Audit or Compensation Committee with its definition of independence. ISS policy recommends that shareholders vote Withhold for current CEOs or CFOs who sit on the Audit or Compensation Committee. They also deem former CEOs within the past 5 years and former CFOs within the past 3 years as being non-independent. For those former CEOs or CFOs that are deemed non-independent, ISS will now recommend that shareholders vote Withhold if they serve on the Audit or Compensation Committee within the 3 or 5-year non-independence period.
Overboarded Directors (TSX Only)
ISS clarified their policy to state that they will generally not count a board for determining if a director is overboarded, when it is publicly disclosed that the director will be stepping off that board at its next annual meeting. This information must be included within the company’s proxy circular in order to be taken into consideration by ISS. On the flip side, ISS will include any new boards a director is planning on joining even if the shareholder meeting confirming their election to the new board has not yet taken place.
Equity-Based Compensation Plans – Venture Companies
ISS considers companies on either the TSX Venture Exchange (TSXV) or Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) as Venture companies. While the TSXV requires regular confirmation by shareholders of rolling limit equity plans (e.g. 10% of common shares outstanding) on an annual basis, there is no such requirement for CSE-listed companies. In many cases, this means that rolling limit equity plans for CSE-listed issuers may not appear on an AGM ballot for shareholder re-approval unless there are material amendments to the plan. ISS refers to rolling limit equity plans as “evergreen” plans.
Moving forward, ISS will now recommend a Withhold vote for Compensation Committee members who continue to serve on the committee, if the company maintains an evergreen plan and has not sought shareholder approval in the past two years, and is not seek shareholder approval at the upcoming AGM.
This change provides consistency between ISS’ treatment of TSXV and CSE-listed companies when seeking shareholder re-approval of evergreen plans. The exact voting policy will be enacted starting in 2021, providing CSE-listed companies with a transition period to react accordingly to this policy change and seek shareholder re-approval at the appropriate AGM.
Updates to Pay-for-Performance Analysis
Use of EVA as New Executive Compensation Metric to Replace GAAP-Based Metrics – TSX Companies
Starting in 2020, ISS plans on incorporating a new performance metric (EVA) into the financial performance assessment, replacing the GAAP-based metrics used in 2019. Accordingly, EVA performance will now affect the quantitative pay-for-performance analysis and Say on Pay recommendations for the 2020 proxy season. GAAP-based metrics will continue to displayed within ISS reports for information purposes.
As a reminder, EVA will be calculated as follows by ISS:
EVA = Net Operating Profit after Taxes – (Cost of Capital * Capital)
ISS will look at EVA in four different ways as part of its analysis:
1) EVA Margin – EVA as a Percentage of Sales
2) EVA Spread – EVA as a Percentage of Capital
3) EVA Momentum (Sales) – Annual change in EVA Margin
4) EVA Momentum (Capital) – Annual change in EVA Spread
These four measures will then be weighted and compared to the same overall performance of the selected peer group for an issuer.
Further clarification of these calculations are expected from ISS in the months ahead leading up to the adoption of these changes for issuers with meetings falling on or after February 1, 2020.
Addition of 3-Year Multiple of Median View of CEO Pay for Information Purposes
ISS has also indicated that their research reports will now feature a 3-year Multiple of Median (MoM) view of CEO pay as a measure of long-term pay on a relative basis against an issuer’s ISS peer group. The 3-year Multiple of Median analysis will not be a part of the ISS quantitative screen methodology, but will be displayed in ISS reports for informational purposes only.
GGA continues to monitor the evolving proxy voting guidelines on a regular basis and will be reporting on any further developments as they are confirmed. Companies should be reviewing their compensation and governance practices against these updated guidelines to ensure that their current designs align to the updated guidelines as we move into the 2020 proxy season.
For more details on the ISS 2020 Proxy Voting Guideline Updates for Canada, please click on the following link: https://www.issgovernance.com/file/policy/latest/updates/Americas-Policy-Updates.pdf
Further information on preliminary changes to ISS’ Canadian compensation policies for 2020 can also be found here: https://www.issgovernance.com/file/policy/latest/americas/Canada-Preliminary-Compensation-FAQ.pdf