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Posts Tagged ‘Executive Compensation’

The Wells Fargo incentive pay problem is at least as old as Matthews, Young; and we’ve been advising the banking industry on performance-based incentive compensation for over 40 years.  Decades ago when we discussed design of incentive plans, we would half-joke about avoiding the creation of an employee mindset of “open an account and get a new toaster; open three new accounts and get three toasters”.

Our experience tells us that a cardinal rule of incentives is that you get what you pay for – in terms of employee behavior and results.  If your bank sets new account goals without incorporating a balancing measure like branch customer satisfaction, you are sending a problematic message:  account growth matters and gets rewarded and customer satisfaction does not.  If your incentives are driven by Net Income growth without corresponding Return on Assets / Equity measures, you are telling management that it’s okay to inflate the balance sheet for that extra dollar of profits.   If loan growth is the key to incentive earnings without corresponding credit quality requirements . . . well, we all know where that got us in the recent past!

Business news reports of the Wells Fargo problem indicate that another cardinal rule of incentives may have been violated:  employees must have a reasonable chance of achieving goals and not fear losing their jobs for failing to achieve what they perceive as unobtainable results.  Such a situation will cause some employees to quit trying and others to start their search for different employment.  Or in the Wells Fargo case, employees will find a way to achieve goals even when they know their behavior is inconsistent with customer interests and, ultimately, shareholder return.

We also believe that Wells Fargo’s decision to cancel incentive plans is an over-reaction.  Well-designed incentive plans are an effective management tool to:

  • focus attention and action plans on key results
  • motivate individual effort and teamwork
  • link company and employee success

The Wells Fargo story will fade in the press, but we believe it should be a wakeup call for banks to take a fresh look at incentive plans.  With the new year approaching, now is the time to ask the tough questions:  Are performance measures balanced with respect to growth, profitability, soundness, and customer satisfaction?  Are expectations reasonably obtainable and do employees have the proper tools and training to perform at their best?  Are payout levels competitive but reasonable compared to base pay (e.g., are high incentives necessary for cash compensation to be competitive)?  Are we supporting our incentives plans with effective employee communications that explain expectations for results and behavior?

Matthews, Young has been advising banks, thrifts, and credit unions for over four decades on the use of sound incentive compensation.  We are experienced in the design of new plans as well as the review of existing plans.  Contact us at: Info@MatthewsYoung.com.

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Finding the time and resources for board and committee development is an ongoing challenge.  But enhancing the effectiveness of your Compensation Committee can be done with a few key actions.  This blog and ones that follow will address:

  • Setting a workable Committee calendarCompensation Committee Calendar
  • Selecting membership
  • Continuing education on executive compensation

The beginning of the year is a great time to update or set up a calendar for your Compensation Committee.  Committee responsibilities and activities need to

be spelled out in advance and scheduled throughout the year to:

  • Balance the Committee’s workload
  • Allow sufficient time for review before decisions are required
  • Ensure that decisions are well-timed for effectiveness as well as meeting any regulatory requirements

The first step in building the calendar is listing and grouping activities.  You may be surprised at how many issues need to be addressed when you write them all down.  Our basic categorized list includes:

  • Compensation Philosophy Statement
    • This roadmap for guiding Committee decisions should be reviewed at least annually.
    • If you don’t have one, you would be surprised how helpful having written principles can be.
    • Market and Peer Group Review
      • Update the peer group for relevancy.
      • Gather compensation data from surveys and proxies.
      • Monitor performance versus peers.
      • Performance and Salary Review
        • Board/Committee review of CEO performance; and CEO review and report on other senior officers.
        • Committee review of CEO salary and adjust based on market/peer pay levels and executive job performance.
        • Committee review of CEO recommendations for other senior officers.
        • Annual Incentive Plan
          • Update plan in terms of participation, payout ranges, objectives, weights, and performance ranges.
          • Review performance and potential payout levels at mid-year.
          • Complete end-of-year review and approve payouts.
          • Long Term Incentive Plan (if you use stock)
            • Review existing grants and remaining share reserve.
            • Determine any need for updating plan and/or share reserve.
            • Determine new grant (type of grant, total shares, terms, CEO allocation).
            • Review and approve CEO recommendation for grants to other officers.
  • Compensation Risk Assessment
    • Conduct at least annually – ideally just after the end of the year so the Committee can look back at the prior year and plan for the year just beginning.
    • Director Compensation
      • Determine frequency of review (we recommend an annual review; but at least every third year as a minimum).
      • Conduct review and recommend changes to Board.

Of course, companies participating in government programs like TARP or those who are required to report to the SEC have a number of other requirements and activities that we won’t try to cover here.  Suffice it to say that these requirements are a significant expansion of the previous list.

Filling out the calendar is best done using a grid with the major categories of work down the left side of the calendar, and the months across the top.  This approach allows you to schedule the items in each category in logical order as well as look at the volume of Committee work in each month.

Finally, this is a task best completed by the Committee Chair, CEO, and outside compensation consultant if you have one.  You may also want your CFO and Chief Human Resources Officer involved if they interact directly with the Committee.

Please add comments below, and if you want to know more about how we can help, call me at 919-644-6962 or ask us to contact you at http://matthewsyoung.com/contact.htm.

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In a previous blog entry, I talked about improving Executive Compensation Committee Effectiveness by setting up an annual Committee calendar to balance workload, set priorities, and ensure timely and effective decisions.

This follow-on blog highlights four important elements for effectiveness from the standpoint of Committee membership, structure, and decision-making authority:

  • Characteristics of effective committee members
  • Appropriate committee size and turnover
  • Balancing other committee assignments
  • Assigning sufficient authority

 

Characteristics of Effective Committee Members

Some Director backgrounds are more appropriate than others for the Compensation Committee.  Candidates with formal corporate management experience or service as professional directors tend to have a better perspective for dealing with complex compensation issues.  Directors with entrepreneurial or smaller company experience may not have faced these kinds of issues before.

 

Appropriate Committee Size and Turnover

Our experience shows that the Compensation Committee needs at least three independent members but typically not more than five.  Decision-making is streamlined with a smaller committee; but don’t get so small that you limit important interaction and having a range of perspectives that ultimately builds strong consensus.  Also, you should change no more than one-third of the committee’s members in a year.  Otherwise, you lose “institutional memory” and valuable experience and expertise that takes a while to develop.

 

Balancing Other Committee Assignments

Because of the importance placed on the governance of executive compensation, membership on the Compensation Committee should be a director’s primary committee assignment.  If at all possible, don’t place directors on both the Compensation and Audit Committees.  While you want your best directors on your most critical committees, you don’t want to stretch them too thin.

 

Assigning Sufficient Authority

And finally, all Boards of Directors should take the time to determine what level of authority the Compensation Committee will hold.  We believe that Compensation Committees are most effective when the Board assigns them specific decision-making authority.   Where full Board voting is desired or required, the Committee should always bring a specific recommendation that the Committee has developed and fully supports.

 

If you would like a sample Compensation Committee Membership Profile, we would be happy to send you one.  Click on the button below to request a copy.

Sample Executive Compensation Committee Membership Profile

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For years, larger companies have routinely budgeted to increase base salaries of employees by a few percent based on what everybody else is doing. Then, the annual increase is usually spread among employees based on where they are paid in their job’s policy salary range and, hopefully, based on a merit performance score. There is a good deal of logic in such a process, but it is worth rethinking given the realities of today’s labor market.

payrollWhy does an annual increase in the guaranteed base salary make sense? The fact that it is routinely done at the same time each year gives employees a sense of security and if your strategy emphasizes low risk, steady growth with retention of a stable staff, then this approach to base salary management makes sense. On the other hand, if your organization’s strategy is for more risky growth where high levels of performance can make a big difference, perhaps a different approach to base pay would make better sense.

Maybe some of the base should be shifted over time to incentive pay. Perhaps base salary reviews should be done less often with bigger increase potentials when salary increases are eventually granted. How you mix pay between the guaranteed portion and the at-risk portion is a matter of strategy and to be effective, your pay strategy must support your business strategy. We hear HR professionals worrying about the annual 2% to 4% increase having become an entitlement. However, management of companies that have had depressed revenues during the recent economic recession have little patience for any entitlement attitude. HR professionals need to think about how their office can better support the organization’s strategy. Rethinking the annual base pay increase entitlement is a good place to start.

Of course, every organization is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing base salaries and overall compensation. Having worked with hundreds of organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, fast growing and declining, risk-averse and risk-tolerant, we understand the need for a custom solution. As the economy slowly improves, this is a good time to step back and question your organization’s compensation management. We would appreciate your thoughts. Please email, call or comment below.

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Citi is finally getting CEO pay plans right! After losing their shareholder “say-on-pay” vote at the 2012 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, new Chairman Michael E. O’Neill, who just took over as Chairman last April, interviewed a large number of important shareholders. He was told that paying their CEO a $6 Million Incentive based on a two-year (2011 and 2012) cumulative pre-tax profit of $12 Billion, may sound like a good deal for the shareholders, but it was fraught with problems.

carrots

Incentive Pay Must Be Carefully Designed

To begin, the Company had 2010 pre-tax profit of approximately $12 Billion. So, the hurdle for earning the $6 Million was half of the actual earnings in 2010. Yes, the economy has made earnings difficult to produce, and yes, Citi is trying to overcome internal problems, but shareholders were unwilling to allow a hurdle rate that low. There were other problems with the design of the Plan.

Cumulative two-year pre-tax earnings ignores the fact that the bank could grow assets at a decreasing return on each dollar and meet the earnings hurdle while increasing their capital requirements significantly. Using volume of profit as a management performance measurement always has this inherent problem. In fact, increasing volume of profit can and often does result in lower returns on equity in banking. For that reason, shareholders can lose as management earns more, and a lose-win plan is never good.

Finally, building on the last point, there is no clear link between shareholder returns and management pay in the Plan Citi was using. A common objective of executive compensation plans is to align the interests of management with those of the shareholders. The old Citigroup, Inc. Plan did the opposite to some degree. The Board of Citigroup consists of intelligent and successful people, but they got some bad advice along the way. After Chairman O’Neill spoke with shareholders, he tasked the Board’s Compensation Committee to redesign the CEO’s Compensation Plan to address the shareholders’ concerns. He was not about to get a negative “say-on-pay” vote after his first year as Chairman.

Now, in my many years of studying and designing executive compensation plans, I have yet to see the perfect plan. It just does not exist. Business is too complex to allow for such a thing, and the need to keep the plan as simple as possible is an important constraint.  Yet, the new Citigroup, Inc. Management Compensation Plan addresses shareholder concerns with an elegantly simple design.

Executives will be granted units worth a certain amount in three years if certain performance is achieved.  Citigroup stock must perform in the top three-quarters of a carefully selected peer group of stocks of similar companies, and Citigroup’s Return on Average Assets over the three years must beat a hurdle equal to the previous year’s actual or there will be no units rewarded.  Furthermore, if the Return on Average Assets over the three years is better than the previous year by a significant percentage, then a target number of additional units will be awarded.

This design is superior to the old design because it clearly:

  1. aligns management’s interests with those of the shareholders and
  2. it is tied to relative performance compared with peers as well as the Company’s strategic goals.

There are some potential draw backs to such a plan, but the new plan is so much better than the old plan, I will not spend words on the risks in this particular blog.  Perhaps in the future, we can look at some of the potential flaws.  In the meantime, I say congratulations to Mr. O’Neill.  I may go buy some Citigroup stock!

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A recent headline from WorldatWork indicates the gap between CEO and CFO pay is growing farther apart.   The study conducted by BDO USA, LLP indicates that CFOs average 40% of CEO pay at 600 public companies included in the study.  One reason offered for the increased disparity is due to CEO pay being more commonly tied to the increase in the company’s equity, which for most public companies, increased substantially in 2010 and 2011.

While CEO’s have historically been paid at levels higher than the rest of the executive team, this recent trend of an increased gap could lead to problems.  Shareholders may assume that the change in the CEO – CFO pay comparison could be a reflection of how the Compensation Committee values the relative roles of risk-taker vs. risk-controller.   Let’s hope not.  That led to some serious problems in the past.  It is more likely that the bigger recent gap is due to the 2010 and 2011 run up in stock prices and the CEO’s larger percentage of compensation tied to stock price gains.  Should the mix be so different for the two positions?  A return to a more equitable internal pay structure will help avoid potential perceptions among shareholders that CFOs are not valued as much as they have been in the past.

With slowly improving economic indicators, organizations are reviewing current compensation practices.   In addition to the scrutiny on executive compensation as a Pay Equityresult of Dodd-Frank, this renewed focus on executive pay will require organizations to focus on their philosophy and implement equitable compensation plans.  Compensation Committees may want to look at how relative compensation has changed over time and consider ways of optimizing compensation mix to stabilize the fluctuation in the comparisons.

In our Firm’s work with client executive teams, we have historically measured the internal pay equity of senior executives measured as a percentage of the CEO’s pay.   We have significant, historically viable data showing the relative pay for all executives on the senior team as related to that of the CEO.   Two critically important objectives of any company’s compensation philosophy should be to target external competitiveness and be internally equitable.

If you would like a review of your company’s current compensation practices measured against market, industry and custom peer groups, please give us a call (919-644-6962) or visit us at http://matthewsyoung.com.

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The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law in July 2010 by President Obama, shines a bright light on many issues related to Executive Compensation and Corporate Governance.  Specifically, one section (952) requires the SEC to adopt rules  regarding Compensation Committee members’ independence and suggests a specific list of factors to be identified that will govern the Committee’s advisors.  To quote chapter and verse, Section 952 – The Commission is directed to establish competitively neutral independence factors for all who are retained to advise compensation committees

First, a couple of definitions according to Webster’s dictionary:

Independentnot subject to control by others, not requiring or relying on something else, not looki ng to others for one’s opinions or fo r guidance in conduct

Neutral – having no personal preference, not supporting or favoring either side…

Personally, I don’t know how “independence” can be anything other than “neutral”…this seems a little redundant, but I digress.

The SEC is required to adopt the new rules by July of 2011 (within one year of the law being signed).   The rules will require that public companies disclose in their proxy when they hire an outside compensation consultant, whether potential conflicts of interest exist (in other words – if the consultant has a personal preference or is potentially subject to control by others) and what the Committee has done to address the potential conflict.  This will obviously influence Committee behavior in hiring such advisors by encouraging them to avoid any potential conflicts or breaches of neutrality and independence.    In only the most extreme cases, could a Committee justify hiring an advisor that violates the independence test without public scrutiny and shareholder unrest.

Much like Sarbanes-Oxley’s requirements of independence and neutrality with regard to Audit Committee advisors, these new rules on corporate governance seem to fall into the category of “doing the right thing”.  Some consulting activities that seem to contradict this characteristic would be selling products to companies whom you advise, simultaneously working for management on other projects without full disclosure and prior approval of the Committee or an engagement advising companies for fees where the consulting principals have a significant ownership position (i.e. shareholder).

At Matthews-Young, we have always subscribed to the higher ideal of “doing the right thing”.  We require that we be hired and report directly to the Compensation Committee when we are engaged for Executive Compensation work.  We have no sources of revenue other than being paid for our  time and knowledgeable, expert advice without “supporting or favoring either side”.

If we can assist you with improving your company’s governance and committee effectiveness please give us a call at 919-644-6962 or ask us to contact you at http://matthewsyoung.com/contact.htm.

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