SEC Enforcement: Actually, Just Check All Your Disclosures
Here’s another recent settlement between the SEC’s Enforcement Division and a company that disclosed allegedly misleading customer metrics (the CEO was also charged). This one’s scary because it delves into the type of non-financial stuff that gets added to earnings releases (and occasionally periodic reports) without a lot of lawyerly checking. This Stinson blog explains the allegations:
In 2014 and 2015, Comscore disclosed its total number of customers and net new customers added in quarterly earnings calls. Comscore also disclosed its customer total in periodic filings with the Commission. According to the SEC the number of net new customers added per quarter was an important performance indicator for Comscore that analysts tracked and reported on. During this time, in an effort to conceal the fact that quarterly growth in Comscore’s customer total had slowed or was declining, a Comcast employee allegedly approved and implemented multiple changes to the methodology by which the quarterly customer count was calculated. These changes were neither applied retroactively nor disclosed to the public per the SEC order.
Coincidentally, a recent Corp Fin comment letter raised similar issues for a different company. Comments might be down overall, but don’t let anyone tell you that Corp Fin is “calling it in” for their reviews. They took issue with the number of customers disclosed by a gym in its annual report and – of all the things! – the viewership stats that the company cited for “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve.”
For those of us who want to save companies from fines & embarrassment, the question is how to vet non-financial metrics efficiently and without losing all your friends & clients. Some members have suggested putting a “stake in the ground” that describes how customer metrics are calculated – whether that’s a widely-available internal thing or actually in the 10-K would be up for debate (both shareholders & competitors would prefer the latter). Shoot me an email if you have other ideas…
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net October 8, 2019
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