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On the board's agenda

Top of mind topics for board members

The Center for Board Effectiveness is pleased to present On the board’s agenda, a bi-monthly publication focused on topics that are top of mind for board members.

What the board needs to know about blockchain technology

June 2020

Now more than ever before, there has been an increased focus on how new technologies can improve existing business processes. Blockchain is one such technology. The unique capabilities of a blockchain can increase the transparency, record integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of transaction processing and recording.

To date, the adoption of blockchain has largely been within the financial technology (fintech) industry, focused on transacting cryptoassets. However, more organizations in more sectors—such as technology, media, and telecommunications; life sciences; health care; and manufacturing—are expanding and diversifying their blockchain initiatives. New use cases for blockchain technology that span across multiple industries continue to be identified. Organizations are seeing the potential in using the technology as a connecting platform that can enable many business processes, including the financial reporting process. A recent Deloitte survey revealed that 55 percent of executives identified blockchain technology to be a critical priority for their organizations.

Considering the potential changes that this technology may bring to business and operating environments—both as an enabler and as a driver—it is prudent to consider both the risks and benefits of using a blockchain and its impact on an organization’s internal control environment.

Artificial intelligence and ethics: An emerging area of board oversight responsibility

June 2020

The unprecedented situation the entire world finds itself in due to the COVID-19 pandemic presents fundamental challenges to businesses of all sizes and maturities. As the thinking shifts from crisis response to recovery, it is clear that there will be a greater need for scenario planning in a world remade by COVID-19. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will likely be at the forefront of driving data-driven scenario planning given its ability to deal with large volumes and varieties of data to match the velocity of a rapidly changing landscape.

Even before the pandemic, the areas for which boards of directors have oversight responsibility seemed to expand on a daily basis. The last few years have seen increased calls for board oversight in areas such as cyber, culture, and sustainability, to name just a few areas of focus. And the challenges posed by the pandemic have further increased the number and importance of boards’ responsibilities. In addition, boards will increasingly be called upon to address an emerging area of oversight responsibility at the intersection of AI and ethics.

Artificial intelligence and ethics

Governing through the pandemic

May 2020

It is too soon to know whether, how, and to what extent the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to permanent changes—the “next normal”—in how companies are governed or if, post-pandemic, we will go back to the way things were just a few short months ago. In the meantime, governing through the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery raises a host of new challenges, while also offering potential opportunities. The purpose of this On the board’s agenda is to consider some ways in which boards may get through the pandemic and to contemplate the future of governance in a post-COVID-19 world.

1 Punit Renjen, The heart of resilient leadership: Responding to COVID-19, Deloitte Insights, March 16, 2020 


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The atmosphere for climate-change disclosure

March 2020

Discussions and debates regarding the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure have continued their fast-paced trajectory over the past several months. In January 2020, the CEO of the world’s largest asset manager stated, “. . . we will be increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.”1 Specifically, BlackRock is asking the companies they invest in on behalf of their clients to:

  • Provide disclosure in line with industry-specific Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) guidelines, or equivalent standard, by year-end.
  • Disclose climate-related risks in line with the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ (TCFD)2 recommendations.

Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock, CEO letter: A fundamental reshaping of finance, January 14, 2020.
The United Kingdom’s FSB created the TCFD due to concerns of systemic risk in the financial system related to climate change, including that because such risk is both contested and long term, it may not be well understood and not considered rigorously enough by many organizations. The TCFD’s 31 members were chosen by the FSB to include both users and preparers of disclosures from across the G20’s constituency, covering a broad range of economic sectors and financial markets. The TCFD seeks to develop recommendations for voluntary climate-related financial disclosures that are consistent, comparable, reliable, clear, and efficient and provide decision-useful information to lenders, insurers, and investors.

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The strategic audit committee: A 2020 preview

January 2020

To anyone familiar with the role and responsibilities of audit committees, it will come as no surprise that the audit committee is sometimes called the “kitchen sink” committee. That is because at many companies, any topic that isn’t clearly the responsibility of another committee or the full board frequently ends up on the audit committee agenda.

Due to this and other factors, the audit committee agenda is usually jam-packed, and audit committees need to be strategic, prioritizing the matters they handle and using their time efficiently and effectively. The need for this strategic approach will almost surely increase in 2020, as the number and complexity of issues faced by boards and audit committees continue to grow.

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The 2020 boardroom agenda: More topics, more oversight

January 2020

The role of the board of directors and its committees is rapidly and constantly expanding. New matters seem to arise all the time, and the board is viewed, in the court of public opinion if not in courts of law, as being responsible for everything the company does or does not do. 
As both a result and an example of this perception of the board’s role, it is not surprising that when anything negative happens to a company, the first question asked is often “Where was the board?” 

There are many items that have been on the board’s agenda for many years. These include oversight of risk, strategy, and executive compensation. At the same time, a number of items appearing on board agendas in recent years have taken up more of the board’s time and attention. These include board composition, culture, and shareholder engagement. And the newest items that boards are grappling with include challenges such as the role and responsibilities of the company in society and sustainability, which itself includes topics ranging from environmental concerns to employee activism and more.

This edition of On the board’s agenda discusses some of the matters expected to occupy much of the board’s attention and time in 2020. This list is not all-inclusive, nor should it be, as there are many matters that will be the subject of board focus, as well as a wide range of new matters that will likely arise and command the board’s attention.

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International taxes: Seismic changes may be coming

December 2019

After decades of operating within a generally stable international tax regime, multinational companies have more recently seen a flurry of activity, thanks to a global focus on profit shifting and the US 2017 tax overhaul. With the potential for international tax rules to undergo seismic shifts in the next several years, board members would do well to keep an eye on the work being performed at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD.

Following the first phase of its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, the Paris-based OECD is hosting an ambitious project in which 130+ nations (collectively known as the “Inclusive Framework”) are attempting to revise the international tax architecture to account for the ways in which the digitalization of the global economy has blurred traditional lines of jurisdiction. Whether consensus can be reached by so many countries with vastly different priorities, politics and domestic industries remains to be seen, but there may be significant risks to entities ignoring this project.

The OECD project has the potential to significantly impact a company’s risk profile and strategic planning, two of the key areas of board oversight. Accordingly, directors should stay informed about the status of the project and how it might impact the companies they serve.

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What the board needs to know about the future of mobility

December 2019

The transformation to a new mobility ecosystem—the “future of mobility”—is being driven by a series of converging technological and social trends: the rapid growth of shared mobility, including carsharing and ridesharing; the increasing viability of electric and alternative powertrains; new modes of transportation like e-scooters; and the growth of connected and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles (AVs). The result is a new ecosystem of mobility that can offer faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more customized travel. This new ecosystem, which in some ways is already here, will affect far more than automakers and transportation providers—industries from insurance, telecom, and health care to energy and media should reconsider how they create value in this emerging environment.

A key role of the board is to provide strategic oversight, including forward-looking perspectives, to help the organization build and maintain competitive advantage in the face of change. The purpose of this publication is to help board members understand the impact of this fundamental shift from personally owned, driver-driven vehicles toward a future mobility system centered around seamless integrated mobility—and the implications for future value creation.

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The front line of ESG disclosure: The board’s role

November 2019

Rapidly changing global market trends in technology, the role of business in society, the effects of climate change, and other areas, have a significant impact on value creation. In response to these changes, companies and investors are taking a wider view of the opportunities and risks associated with businesses, particularly those related to the interdependent nature of businesses and the reliance of companies on people and natural resources to sustain and grow their businesses. To make informed decisions and evaluate how companies manage these risks and opportunities, stakeholder demands for more transparent, comparable, and reliable information on companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks and performance have never been greater—and the corporate community is taking notice.

The Business Roundtable recently released a statement on corporate purpose,1 signed by over 180 CEOs who committed to leading their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders. For board members, the statement underscored that directors need to understand the environmental and social impacts on the business strategy and risk profile of the companies they serve. Corporate response to the increasing risks and opportunities that ESG presents, along with the growing market expectation for better understanding of how ESG protects and drives value for an organization, has already resulted in a dramatic increase in disclosure. As companies continue to navigate this landscape, they will be called upon to provide even greater transparency in response to demands from stakeholder groups such as investors, customers, policy makers and regulators, and employees.

This issue of On the board’s agenda explores developments influencing companies to improve transparency on ESG topics, and to consider the avenue for disclosure to most effectively meet the information needs of investors and other stakeholders.

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Outside the four walls: The board’s role in extended enterprise management

November 2019

Companies, including their boards and managements, have long understood that they do not function in a vacuum and that their success depends, at least in part, upon customers, suppliers, employees, and other constituencies. However, there is a growing realization that in the 21st century, companies operate in a greatly expanded and more complex ecosystem with numerous components, many outside their control, that create opportunities and pose risks. As a result of the expansion of their ecosystems, companies increasingly need to think outside the four walls—to reset their front lines—to effectively manage and grow their businesses.

There are numerous examples of companies thinking—or having to think—outside the four walls, such as the global, rather than national, competitive landscape; the explosion of management and board engagement with investors; and pressure to serve society at large rather than just shareholders. Companies have also experienced or seen others experience problems resulting from services or products provided by third parties, which are often indistinguishable from those provided by the core business. Research indicates that from 2016 through 2019, 83 percent of organizations experienced third-party incidents and that nearly half of those organizations experienced some impact on customer service, financial position, reputation, or regulatory compliance. Moreover, in an era of social media, even a minor incident may “go viral” in minutes or even seconds, potentially causing serious damage to the organization before the facts are known.

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Stepping in: The board's role in crisis management

September 2019

There are actions boards can take now—and questions they can ask—to give themselves comfort that the organization is prepared to manage a crisis. When the stakes are high and scrutiny is intense, the board has a unique role.

Published by Deloitte’s Global Center for Corporate Governance.

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Board oversight of corporate compliance: Is it time for a refresh?

September 2019

Nearly 25 years have passed since a landmark decision of the Delaware Chancery Court involving the board’s role in compliance oversight. The case was based upon claims that the board in question had breached its fiduciary duty regarding compliance with legal requirements applicable to health care providers, leading to an extensive federal investigation, an indictment charging multiple federal felonies, and fines, penalties, and damages approximating $250 million. Among its other findings, the Chancery Court concluded that:

“a duty to attempt in good faith to assure that a corporate information and reporting system, which the board concludes is adequate, exists, and...failure to do so under some circumstances may...render a director liable for losses caused by non-compliance with applicable legal standards.”1

As a result of this decision and its progeny, it is now settled doctrine that a board of director’s fiduciary duties include establishing that management has an effective corporate compliance program in place, exercising oversight of that program, and taking regular steps to stay informed of the program’s content and operation. Aside from the many adverse consequences of an inadequate compliance program, a breach of these duties can result in shareholder derivative litigation, and may even subject board members to personal liability under some circumstances (though that did not happen in the case cited above). Of equal or greater importance, a compliance failure can lead to critical operational, reputational, and other business challenges that can haunt a company for years—or even destroy it.

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The tech-savvy board — A director's perspective

September 2019

With the ever-increasing focus on technology—as both a risk and a driver of success—the board’s role in technology oversight is one of the hottest topics in corporate governance today. Bob Lamm, independent senior advisor to Deloitte’s Center for Board Effectiveness, recently spoke with Sherry Smith, an experienced board member with a passion for technology, to get her take on this critical area.

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Trends in executive compensation

September 2019

The 2019 proxy season is largely over for calendar year-end companies, so it is a good time to reflect on a couple of key themes in executive compensation that emerged during the season: 

  • Achieving significant shareholder support for “Say on Pay” remains a top priority for issuers.
  • Institutional investors want executive’s compensation packages to align with long-term value creation.
  • Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) policy and disclosure are increasingly important to investors, including assessing whether such activities should be linked to executive evaluations and/or compensation.

This publication is a summary of how these themes impacted the 2019 proxy season and what management, compensation committees and boards should understand going into the 2020 proxy season.

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2019 Proxy Review

July 2019

In recent years, the role of the audit committee—and, in particular, its oversight of the independent auditor—has been subject to increased scrutiny from regulators, investors, and other stakeholders. The independent auditor is critical to maintaining confidence in the reliability of financial information and, ultimately, in the proper functioning of the capital markets. Increasingly, investors also look to the independent auditor to provide insights that support sound, well-informed financial decisions. With changes to the auditor’s reporting model that went into effect this year and the imminent requirement to identify critical audit matters (CAMs), transparency around the audit committee’s interactions with the independent auditor is even more essential.

Now in its fifth year, Deloitte’s observations and analysis of trends in audit committee disclosures in the proxy statements of S&P 100 companies reflect moderate increases in disclosure in certain areas of frequent focus by regulators and investors.

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CEO pay ratio: Leading indicator of broader human resource matters?

July 2019

Now that the CEO pay ratio disclosure requirement has been in place for two proxy seasons, it has demonstrated to be less impactful than some proponents and others may have expected. However, pay ratio disclosure may just be the opening salvo in an employee, shareholder, media, and regulators’ demands for additional employee and compensation data. For example, some major investors have asked companies to disclose additional details about the median employee, including the employee’s geographic location and whether he/she is a salaried or hourly employee, in addition to more general information about the composition of the workforce, including geographic distribution, proportion of salaried and hourly employees, and the percentage of the total workforce comprised of contract workers.

Developments suggest that compensation disclosure is converging with broader concerns about issues such as gender, race and ethnicity pay equity, culture, diversity and inclusion, and employee engagement. As a result, more time is likely to be spent on human resource policies at both the board and compensation committee levels, and compensation committees may be thinking about broadening their charters to become human capital committees.

Business Chemistry®: A path to a more effective board composition

June 2019

The average board member spends about 245 hours on board matters over the course of a year, according to the 2018–2019 NACD Public Company Governance Survey. However, less than one-third of this time, 74 hours, consists of board member interactions, such as telephonic and in-person board and committee meetings and a handful of board dinners.

Given these limited interactions, how well do board members actually know one another? Do they appreciate why some like to listen to the facts before commenting or why some comment before facts have been shared? Do they know why some board members lean in more heavily on details, while others seem to be exclusively focused on big picture matters? Do they understand why some members of management just do not click with the board, or why some directors don’t seem to get along?

Business Chemistry may help to answer the above questions and many others, and can play a fundamental role in understanding how the board works—or does not work—both internally and in its interactions with management.

What to expect from auditor reporting of critical audit matters

April 2019

Audit reports for large accelerated filers will include a new section addressing CAMs beginning for audits of fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019, and for other public companies in 2020. This will be a dramatic change in auditor reporting and is expected to generate significant media attention, particularly in the first year of adoption. What is the board’s role with respect to CAMs? How are CAMs identified? What is being done to prepare for CAMs and what might boards expect? This edition discusses these questions and highlights considerations for boards in advance of the first auditor reporting of CAMs this summer.

Crisis resilience and the board—Taking risk oversight to the next level

March 2019

Companies seek to anticipate and avoid or proactively mitigate crises that pose risk to their business. As part of their oversight responsibility, boards seek to assist management in carrying out these responsibilities. However, no matter how prepared a company is, and regardless of the levels of management attentiveness and board oversight, crises will happen; they are a matter of when, not if. Because of this reality, it is important for companies, including their management and board, to build resilience.

Social media and the board

February 2019

No one should be surprised that companies are extensive users of social media. A quick look at nearly any company website, marketing literature, or email signature reveals a group of icons showing the social media platforms on which the company has a presence. Members of those companies’ boards of directors have likely noticed those icons many times, but it is not clear whether those directors fully comprehend the pervasive, enormous influence of social media, how it is used by their companies and their stakeholders, and the benefits and risks associated with use of social media by both groups—and how to best exercise their oversight role with respect to social media.

The 2019 boardroom agenda: Something old, something new?

January 2019

The end of an old year may cause some to heave a sigh of relief—another year is in the rearview mirror. However, board members and those who work with boards may be looking toward the horizon and wondering what challenges may arise in the coming year. Some challenges never seem to go away, and new ones seem to pop up all the time. Even challenges presumed to be over and done with can return, sometimes in a different guise or with a new twist. And, regardless of whether a challenge is new or old, the board will be expected to deal with it—even if it is something beyond the board’s control or outside the scope of its responsibility—because investors, the media and others will ask “where was the board?”

A conversation on blowing up best practices

November 2018

Detonate: Why—And How—Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (And Bring A Beginner’s Mind) To Survive, was published in 2018 (Wiley). Bob Lamm, an independent senior advisor to Deloitte’s Center for Board Effectiveness, recently sat down with one of its authors, Geoff Tuff, a Deloitte Consulting LLP principal and senior leader in the Innovation and Applied Design Practice, to address key concepts and practical approaches outlined in the book.

Not if, but how: Evaluating the soundness of your digital transformation strategy

September 2018

Often for businesses to survive in today’s world, the question is no longer whether to consider a digital transformation strategy. Rather, as board members oversee management’s strategy, a more appropriate question may be how: How can our unique organization evolve and work differently to meet the demands of an ever-evolving marketplace?

Audit committee disclosure in proxy statements—2018 trends

July 2018

Deloitte’s analysis of the 2018 S&P 100 proxies helps to provide transparency into audit committee oversight activities and performance provide a better understanding for investors. Investors and other stakeholders continue to push for greater proxy statement disclosure of both new and existing topics. 

The board’s role in corporate social purpose

July 2018

Corporate social purpose is broader than traditional corporate social responsibility activities and encompasses how the core business delivers positive economic, social, and environmental impact in the world. This On the Board’s Agenda explores how social purpose strategies, programs, and investments can be important assets, and how boards might enhance their oversight of their companies’ social purpose roles and actions.

Industry 4.0

June 2018

The integration of digital and physical technologies is accelerating, enhancing companies’ ability to increase operational excellence and grow in ways that may not have been possible just a couple of years ago. This phenomenon, known as Industry 4.0, suggests a new revolution that enables smart, connected technologies to transform organizations, operations, and the workforce by increasing information flow, creating new insights, and revolutionizing business models.

Sustainability and the board: What do directors need to know in 2018?

May 2018

Sustainability, which encompasses environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns, is increasingly positioned at the top of board agendas, and is now central to corporate competitiveness and a company’s continued ability to operate. Sustainability affects all sectors and challenges even the most progressive companies and the most thoughtful directors. There are a number of steps boards can consider and questions they can ask to gain a better command of emerging sustainability risks and changing stakeholder expectations.

Published by Deloitte's Global Center for Corporate Governance.

Corporate culture risk and the board

April 2018

Recent corporate scandals linked to problematic company cultures have resulted in questions such as "where was the board?" and "shouldn’t the board have known?" In some cases, board members themselves may have wondered why they were not informed of cultural problems and asked, "should we have conducted more due diligence?" These and similar questions, and the responsibility to protect both their companies’ and their own reputations, are leading directors to look for ways to better monitor corporate culture and to understand potential cultural risks and address problems before they get out of control.

Is it time to review your board of director compensation program?

March 2018

Board compensation is on investors' radar. Unlike compensation for executives, non-employee director compensation is not subject to independent review. While shareholders must approve equity plans in which non-employee directors may participate, and while those plans frequently include limitations on individual equity grants or aggregate pay levels, shareholders are not required to approve the director compensation program as a whole. As a result, non-employee director compensation programs that result in high levels of pay can be a lightning rod for proxy advisory firm criticism, shareholder litigation, negative media attention, and more.

Cyber risk in the boardroom—Accelerating from acceptance to action

February 2018

Cyber risk is a top-level business risk that boards may find challenging to oversee and difficult to address. By using a maturity mode for board stewardship of cyber risk and understanding the actions available at each level of maturity, boards can accelerate their transition from awareness to meaningful oversight.

The 2018 boardroom agenda—Dealing with challenges old and new

January 2018

Regardless of size, industry and other characteristics, companies frequently face a constant stream of challenges. These can include perennial challenges that require ongoing or periodic attention, as well as new challenges that seem to arise regularly. Developments in 2017 demonstrate the range and depth of the challenges faced by boards. Perennial challenges include strategy, risk, compensation, shareholder engagement, and regulatory uncertainty; evolving challenges include board composition, social responsibility, technology risk, culture risk, and the combination of innovation and disruption. It is likely that some, if not all, of these items could be on the board’s agenda in 2018.

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