Sarbanes-Oxley Executive Compensation Clawbacks Continue

Yesterday, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced another successful “clawback” of executive compensation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. James O’Leary, former Chief Financial Officer of Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA, was forced to return over $1.4 million in bonus payments and stock sale profits that he made as a result of fraudulent financial reporting in 2006. What is somewhat unique about the case is the fact that the CFO was not implicated in any wrongdoing other than certifying that the financial statements were accurate. The individual who is being criminally prosecuted for the fraud is the Chief Accounting Officer who reported to the CFO during the time period in question.

“Section 304 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act encourages senior management to take affirmative steps to prevent fraudulent accounting schemes from occurring on their watch,” said Rhea Kemble Dignam, Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office. “O’Leary received substantial incentive compensation and stock sale profits while Beazer was misleading investors and fraudulently overstating its income.”

This announcement comes on the heels of a related clawback from the CEO of Beazer Homes that totaled more than $6.4 million. Again, in this case, the CEO was not implicated in any criminal wrongdoing. The SEC’s enforcement approach regarding both the CEO and the CFO in this case serve as a reminder to senior executives to ensure their annual certifications are accurate. The only way to know is to have a strong risk and control program in place. Wheelhouse Advisors can help. Visit www.WheelhouseAdvisors.com to learn more.

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Now Is Not The Time to Reduce Investment in Risk Management

As we head into the second half of 2011, the economic recovery here in the US and abroad is taking hold much more slowly than most expected. Given the modest recovery, some executives may be looking to slash expenses to boost profitability and achieve their near-term goals. However, while tempting, cutting staff and investment in the wrong areas may prove to be a company’s undoing. For financial services companies, this is particularly true in the area of risk management because they are still mending their practices in the wake of the recent financial crisis.

According to the Financial Times, US regulators are keenly aware of what may be on the minds of bank executives and are issuing warnings to avoid cutting risk management budgets. According to Michael Alix, a senior vice-president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who heads the risk-management function within the regulator’s financial-institutions supervision group, the regulators are paying close attention to any plans to lower investment in risk management programs. “We haven’t seen it yet, but we’re vigilant,” says Alix.

Sacrificing the progress made in strengthening risk management programs at this precarious stage of recovery is certainly short-sighted and could lead to even greater problems for companies looking to weather the next storm.

New Proposed Guidance on Stress Testing for Banks

Yesterday, the Office for the Comptroller of the Currency (”OCC”), the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (”FDIC”) issued proposed guidance for banking institutions to create a robust stress testing framework to adequately assess potential risks. The largest financial institutions have been subject to direct stress testing during the financial crisis in association with the administration of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (”TARP”). This new guidance formally outlines requirements for a broader population of institutions, specifically those with $10 billion or more in assets. According to the guidance, all banks of this size should structure their framework in the following manner.

“….. a banking organization’s stress testing framework should include, but are not limited to, augmenting risk identification and measurement; estimating business line revenues and losses and informing business line strategies; identifying vulnerabilities and assessing their potential impact; assessing capital adequacy and enhancing capital planning; assessing liquidity adequacy and informing contingency funding plans; contributing to strategic planning; enabling senior management to better integrate strategy, risk management, and capital and liquidity planning decisions; and assisting with recovery planning.”

While this guidance does not explicitly meet the requirements of section 165(i) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act for non-bank companies, the OCC, Federal Reserve and FDIC plan to issue rules consistent with this guidance for those companies. So, this serves as a preview of what is to come. Public commentary on this proposed guidance is requested by June 29, 2011.

SEC Proposes New Credit Rating Rules

This week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (”SEC”) issued proposed rules that will have a great impact on the integrity of credit ratings going forward. The quality of credit ratings were highly suspect in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. Many of the greatest losses incurred by financial institutions, municipalities and pension funds resulted from investments in securities that were touted as “investment grade”. However, as we know now, those investments were anything but. Now, the SEC will require Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (”NRSROs”) like Moody’s and Standard & Poors to adhere to stricter controls and disclose more information about how the ratings are derived. The SEC issued the following statement supporting the approval of these new rules.

“In passing the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress noted that credit ratings applied to structured financial products proved inaccurate and contributed significantly to the mismanagement of risks by financial institutions and investors,” said SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro. “Our proposed rules are intended to strengthen the integrity and improve the transparency of credit ratings.”

Under the SEC’s proposal, NRSROs would be required to:

1. Report on internal controls.
2. Protect against conflicts of interest.
3. Establish professional standards for credit analysts.
4. Publicly provide – along with the publication of the credit rating – disclosure about the credit rating and the methodology used to determine it.
5. Enhance their public disclosures about the performance of their credit ratings.

Let’s hope these rules help to restore integrity to the marketplace and help investors better understand the risks involved in a given investment.

Waves of Reform Impacting ERM Efforts

As Enterprise Risk Management (“ERM”) has evolved as a discipline over the last decade, it has been largely shaped by waves of reform efforts resulting from corporate fraud in the early 2000’s to economic catastrophes and widespread corruption in the latter half of the decade. According to a recent article by Mary Driscoll in Business Finance Magazine (a partner publication of The ERM Current), a new wave of ERM change and focus is at hand. Through several sources, Mary offers her view of the most recent wave and the one on the horizon.

The third wave, which is proving just as significant, came in early 2010 in the form of SEC Rule 33-9089, which “mandates disclosure of risk oversight and risk reporting lines, risk assessment by business unit, and assessment of the risk associated with compensation plans,” explains Paul Walker, Associate Professor of Commerce at the University of Virginia and a leading academic in the field.

“Furthermore, the recent Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has raised the risk bar by mandating risk committees and risk experts on those committees. Add to this the fiduciary duty pressure on boards and the potential risk-related lawsuits, and you end up with risk getting attention at every level of the organization,” adds Walker.

Now consider this twist. According to an article by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP’s Toby Bishop, “The Dodd-Frank Act has created a large financial incentive for whistle-blowing in companies across all industries.” An area of particular concern relates to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and that could mean higher potential liabilities for companies moving aggressively into emerging markets where local officials expect to trade access for cash.

What has your company done to prepare for the potential impacts of these waves?  If you would like to learn more about practical, cost-effective solutions, let us know by emailing us at NavigateSuccessfully@WheelhouseAdvisors.com.

FDIC Calls for Risk Management Improvements

This week, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (”FDIC”) released a special edition of its Supervisory Insights publication focusing on the recent foreclosure crisis in mortgage banking. In the report, the FDIC provides additional perspective on the deficiencies in internal processes, staffing and control that resulted in a foreclosure moratorium by several of the largest mortgage servicing institutions in late 2010. The FDIC worked with the lead regulatory agencies of the fourteen largest mortgage servicers in the United States to conduct extensive reviews of current foreclosure practices.

The reviews uncovered many common issues among the mortgage servicers. The FDIC noted the following, “concerns included lax foreclosure documentation, ineffective controls over foreclosure procedures, and deficient loss mitigation procedures and controls. Many institutions failed to commit resources sufficient to manage responsibly the rapidly growing volume of mortgage loans in default or at risk of default. Weak governance and controls increased legal, reputational, operational, and financial risks while creating unnecessary confusion for borrowers.”

While the report focuses specifically on the foreclosure shortcomings, it can also serve as a reminder of the value of strong internal controls and risk management practices. As our business processes grow to be more complex and interconnected, the risks inherent in the processes grow exponentially. Unchecked, these risks can quickly propel a business into a full-blown crisis.

How the Dodd-Frank Act Could Impact Your Weekend

On a Friday like today, most folks are looking forward to a relaxing, fun-filled weekend away from work and the myriad of regulations with which we have to comply.  Now, it looks like the new financial reform regulations may have an impact on our leisure time activities.  What you say?  How could that be?  Well, according to an article this week in the Wall Street Journal, the Dodd-Frank Act could force companies who use derivatives to hedge commodity price fluctuations to provide cash collateral on the transactions.  If that happens, then the cost will be transferred to the consumer in the form of higher prices.  One company that anticipates price increases is MillerCoors LLC.  Here’s what the head of risk management at MillerCoors had to say according to the Wall Street Journal.

Craig Reiners, director of risk management at beer giant MillerCoors LLC, said the derivatives rules were designed to reduce threats to financial stability, whereas companies such as his “pose no systemic risks.” If end users aren’t shielded, the rules “would have a very harmful effect on our risk-management of the business and for that matter ultimately the cost of a six-pack of beer.” MillerCoors uses over-the-counter derivatives to hedge against price volatility in areas such as aluminum, hops and energy.

So, as you head out to a sporting event or simply plan to kick back with a cold beverage in your back yard this weekend, beware of the possible negative and unintended impact to your wallet as a result of financial reform.