Momentum continues to build in the European Union to give shareholders greater powers of oversight on executive-pay practices.
A release from New York-based Mercer announcing its latest perspective on the topic details some of what’s going on “across the pond”: In the United Kingdom, binding say-on-pay votes will be implemented starting in October; in Switzerland, a March referendum to introduce binding say-on-pay votes was just supported; and, with similar measures being discussed in France, German and Spain, the EU is planning to introduce legislation later this year to require all 27 EU countries to implement mandatory, binding say-on-pay votes. (The link takes you to Mercer’s “Perspectives” landing page; the April special issue, Executive Pay Regulation: The Potential Impacts of Proposed European Reforms, is at the top right.)
As the perspective notes, there’s a certain European “hardening of attitudes” going on:
The political impetus to regulate executive pay has accelerated in Europe. Recent regulatory developments that would give shareholders greater oversight of executive pay and cap bonuses in the financial services sector, reflect a hardening of attitudes among European politicians and the public. In an era of low or nonexistent economic growth, consumer price inflation, and falling average real wages, executive remuneration will continue to be a sensitive issue.
This is particularly true in the banking sector, where the continued payment of bonuses, in the face of taxpayer-funded bailouts and revelations such as the Libor fixing scandal in London, has sparked outrage. But with other countries and regions taking a less prescriptive approach, an unlevel playing field is emerging and may result in executives leaving the EU for less regulated markets.
These proposed regulations, which have, for the most part, been supported by shareholders, will nevertheless require them to be more active in their oversight of executive pay. One consequence of this greater investor workload may be to extend the influence of proxy advisory firms.
The piece goes on to note exactly what’s going on globally, including in the United States, where say-on-pay votes are still non-binding but have, nonetheless, “influenced executive pay practices [by eliminating] many problematic practices and [increasing] shareholder-engagement efforts.”
Indeed, in this blog post written by Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine about a session at the recent WorldatWork Total Rewards 2013 conference, he goes into much more detail about some of the ways say-on-pay is impacting — pro and con — the business community.
One of the most notable quotes in his post comes from John England, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Pay Governance, who fears what the European binding-vote wave landing on U.S. shores might mean. (He is clearly not a fan.)
“When CEO pay escalates sharply against average worker pay, it will inflame things,” England says in the post. “I do believe we are just one or two scandals away from the prospect of a binding say-on-pay law … in this country.”
What are employers to do with this information? I ran that by two Mercer thought leaders. Here’s what they both had to say. First from Vicki Elliott, Mercer’s senior partner and global financial-services consulting leader:
Companies should not let tighter regulation in financial services and other sectors define their objectives for compensation and talent-management effectiveness. Be creative and don’t succumb to a one-size-fits-all. Companies will [also] need to rethink their employee value propositions and the power of non-pay methods — it can no longer be all about pay.
And from Gregg Passin, senior partner and executive rewards leader for North America:
As say-on-pay develops, it is very important to simplify and clearly communicate remuneration strategies and programs to shareholders. It is [also] likely that there will be more focus on building talent from within so processes for managing talent pipelines such as succession planning and career development will be critical.