WSJ CFO Network, Washington 2017

The Wall Street Journal’s CFO Network gathering is always engaging and informative. This year VEA Vice Chair Nell Minow attended to appear at breakout sessions on board effectiveness and shareholder activism, and reported back on what she learned:

The speakers included Senators John McCain on national security (he said his biggest fears are North Korea and Russia) and Elizabeth Warren (she noted pointedly that there is widespread support, even among Trump voters for maintaining or expanding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and cited the President’s often-claimed enthusiasm for breaking up the TBTF financial institutions), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady (he insists that major tax reform, including filing on a postcard for most individuals, is going to happen), and Ranking Member Adam Schiff of the House Permanent Select Committee (he supports an independent investigation into Russian interference with the democratic process).

A presentation on the prospects for financial regulation/deregulation included former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt and former Commissioner Paul Atkins. Atkins referred to Dodd-Frank as “mostly rubbish…littered with all sorts of gimmies to unions, trial lawyers, and activists,” mentioning the conflict mineral and pay ratio disclosures as examples. He and Pitt emphasized the importance of making sure the investors get material information and are not overwhelmed with data. They insisted that the new administration will bring tough cases. Since fines are paid by the shareholders, they suggested that they do not impose a meaningful penalty. Pitt recommended outsourcing audits of investment managers and broker-dealers, using the Commission’s authority to exempt issuers from regulatory burdens, and experimenting with pilot programs to test regulatory ideas. Another possibly experiment: summary disclosures with hyperlinks providing more information, to assess the way users access the data. Atkins said, “You read through this stuff and most of it is kind of baloney.”

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