SEC “Modernizes” Reg S-K! Risk Factors, Human Capital & More
At a recent open meeting, the SEC adopted amendments to parts of Regulation S-K — – specifically relating to Item 101 (business description), Item 103 (legal proceedings) and Item 105 (risk factors). As anticipated, the amendments include increased focus on human capital.
These are the first significant amendments to these disclosure items in 30 years — and the updates have been many years in the making, as they’re part of the “disclosure effectiveness initiative” that emerged with the SEC’s 2016 concept release and continued up through last year’s proposal. These go beyond the “cleaning out the garage” amendments from a couple years ago and are intended to simplify the substantive disclosure requirements while also improving the readability of disclosure documents. The amendments shift away from prescriptive disclosures to a more principles-based disclosure framework. Here’s an excerpt from the SEC’s press release with highlights:
– Amend Item 101(a) by:
making it largely principles-based, requiring disclosure of information material to an understanding of the general development of the business;
replacing the previously prescribed five-year timeframe with a materiality framework; and
permitting a registrant, in filings made after a registrant’s initial filing, to provide only an update of the general development of the business focused on material developments that have occurred since its most recent full discussion of the development of its business, which will be incorporated by reference;
– Amend Item 101(c) by:
clarifying and expanding its principles-based approach, with a non-exclusive list of disclosure topic examples drawn in part from topics currently contained in Item 101(c);
including, as a disclosure topic, a description of the registrant’s human capital resources to the extent such disclosures would be material to an understanding of the registrant’s business; and
refocusing the regulatory compliance disclosure requirement by including as a topic all material government regulations, not just environmental laws;
– Amend Item 103 by:
expressly stating that the required information may be provided by hyperlink or cross-reference to legal proceedings disclosure located elsewhere in the document to avoid duplicative disclosure; and
implementing a modified disclosure threshold for certain governmental environmental proceedings resulting in monetary sanctions that increases the existing quantitative threshold for disclosure of those proceedings from $100,000 to $300,000, but that also affords a registrant some flexibility by allowing the registrant, at its election, to select a different threshold that it determines is reasonably designed to result in disclosure of material environmental proceedings, provided that the threshold does not exceed the lesser of $1 million or one percent of the current assets of the registrant; and
– Amend Item 105 by:
requiring summary risk factor disclosure of no more than two pages if the risk factor section exceeds 15 pages;
refining the principles-based approach of Item 105 by requiring disclosure of “material” risk factors; and
requiring risk factors to be organized under relevant headings in addition to the subcaptions currently required, with any risk factors that may generally apply to an investment in securities disclosed at the end of the risk factor section under a separate caption.
The Commission adopted the amendments by a 3-2 vote — Commissioners Allison Herren Lee and Caroline Crenshaw dissented. Some may have hoped for more prescriptive human capital disclosure requirements, and the two dissenting statements each express concern with the principles-based nature of the rule. In Commissioner Lee’s dissenting statement, she said she would have supported the final rule “if it had included even minimal expansion on the topic of human capital to include simple, commonly kept metrics such as part time vs. full time workers, workforce expenses, turnover, and diversity.” Commissioner Lee also cited the rule’s “ill-advised omissions” of diversity and climate change. Commissioner Crenshaw’s dissenting statement says the rule fails to deal adequately with climate change risk and human capital and suggests the Commission form an external ESG Advisory Committee to help the Commission respond to ESG trends.
One aspect of the amendments some companies likely aren’t thrilled with is the new requirement to include summary risk factor disclosure when risk factor disclosure exceeds 15 pages. Commissioner Hester Peirce’s statement says she views this change as a “bit of an experiment” and wonders whether the “penalty” of needing to prepare a summary will overcome the fear of litigation that leads companies to produce voluminous risk factor disclosures.
The rules will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and we’ll be posting the avalanche of memos in our “Reg S-K” Practice Area. We’ll also be updating our Handbooks on these topics.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net August 27, 2020
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