January 5, 2015

CFA Institute Member Survey Finds Mixed Response to Proposed SEC CEO Pay Ratio Rule

SEC Pay DisclosureCFA Institute recently asked its members to weigh in on the issue of pay disclosure ratios at companies listed with the SEC. (By way of background, the SEC recently voted 3-2 to propose rules on this front.)

Here’s what Matt Orsagh, CFA, CIPM, and a director of capital markets policy at CFA Institute, had to say about the (interesting) results: 

The SEC proposal would require companies to disclose CEOs’ total compensation as a multiple of median total worker pay. Total compensation would include salary, bonus, stock-and-option awards, long-term incentive pay, and change in pension value. 

In an informal poll, we asked CFA Institute members for their thoughts on whether the proposed rule would be beneficial. The survey results are mixed: 

Useful tool for investors to better understand pay – 43%

Used to shame companies and their boards – 43%

Inconsequential – 12%

No opinion – 3% 

It is clear that CFA Institute members are as split on the issue as many in the investor and issuer communities. Proponents of the rule claim that it will bring further transparency to executive pay and allow for a deeper understanding of pay practices among investors. The rule’s detractors claim that the pay ratio rule is meant to do nothing more than shame companies about their pay practices, and could undermine fruitful engagement between issuers and investors. 

Our own analysis of the proposed rule demonstrates that both sides are right — to a point. Yes, a pay ratio will bring more useful data to the table, allowing investors to better understand executive pay practices at some companies. However, the rule would also likely spawn large, bold headlines about pay inequity — all based on a single number meant to represent a company’s pay practices in a given year.  Yes, there are outrageous pay packages out there, but one number, at a single point in time, doesn’t tell the whole story, whether the topic is quarterly earnings or executive pay. Investors should be wary of putting too much meaning behind the one number of the pay ratio. Using a mosaic approach on pay, as in other investment analysis, is a wiser course of action.