Event bearing material impact on financials of a listed company to be disclosed immediately – SAT Orders

SEBI amends LODR in relation to equity shares with superior rights

Manoj Kumar Tiwari, Executive, Vinod Kothari & Company

SEBI has vide notification published in the Official Gazette dated July 29, 2019 notified the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) (Fourth Amendment) Regulations, 2019 (‘Amendment Regulations’). The said Amendment Regulations shall come into force from the date of publication in the Official Gazette i.e. July 29, 2019.

The amendments pertain to compliances in relation to corporate governance provisions for listed entities which have issued shares with Superior Rights (SRs). SEBI has issued a framework for issuance of DVR as an outcome of SEBI Board Meeting held on June 27, 2019 some of which have been included in the Amendment Regulations.

Brief of the changes made in line with the framework are as under:

Regulation 17(1) w.r.t. Board Composition

  • Atleast half of the board of directors of the listed company which has outstanding SR equity shares shall comprise of independent directors;

Regulation 18(1)(b) w.r.t. Audit Committee Composition

  • The audit committee of a listed entity having outstanding SR equity shares shall comprise only of independent directors;

Regulation 19(1)(c) w.r.t. Nomination and Remuneration Committee (NRC) Composition

  • Two third of the NRC of a listed entity having outstanding SR equity shares shall comprise of independent directors;

Regulation 20(2A) w.r.t. Stakeholders Relationship Committee (SRC) Composition

  • Two third of the SRC of a listed entity having outstanding SR equity shares shall comprise of independent directors;

Regulation 21(2) w.r.t Risk Management Committee (RMC) Composition

  • Two third of the RMC of a listed entity having outstanding SR equity shares shall comprise of independent directors;

Regulation 41(3) w.r.t prohibition on issue of shares with SR substituted with the following

  • The listed entity shall not issue shares in any manner that may confer on any person;
    1. superior or inferior rights as to dividend vis-à-vis the rights on equity shares that are already listed; or
    2. inferior voting rights vis-à-vis the rights on equity shares that are already listed:
  • a listed entity having SR equity shares issued to its promoters/ founders, may issue SR equity shares to its SR shareholders only through a bonus, split or rights issue in accordance with the provisions of the SEBI (ICDR) Regulations, 2018.

Regulation 41A – Other provisions relating to outstanding SR equity shares

A new regulation has been inserted w.r.t SR equity shares

  • The SR equity shares shall be treated at par with the ordinary equity shares in every respect, including dividends, except in the case of voting on resolutions.
  • The total voting rights of SR shareholders (including ordinary shares) in the issuer upon listing, pursuant to an initial public offer, shall not at any point of time exceed seventy four per cent.
  • List of Circumstances in which SR equity shares shall be treated as ordinary equity shares in terms of voting rights viz. appointment/ removal of IDs, RPTs involving SR shareholder, Voluntary winding up, Voluntary resolution process under IBC, changes in AOA/ MOA except change affecting SR equity share, delisting of equity shares etc.
  • Conversion of SR equity shares into ordinary shares w.e.f. 5 years after listing of the ordinary shares. The same can be extended for further 5 years after passing a resolution to that effect, with the SR shareholders abstaining from voting.
  • Circumstances when SR equity shares shall be mandatorily converted into ordinary shares viz. demise of promoter holding such shares, SR shareholder resigning from executive position, merger or acquisition of listed entity resulting in SR shareholders cease to have control etc;

The notification in the Official Gazette can be accessed here: http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/209215.pdf

The outcome of the SEBI Board Meeting held on June 27, 2019 can be accessed here: https://www.sebi.gov.in/media/press-releases/jun-2019/sebi-board-meeting_43417.html

The following Regulations have also been amended to include shares with superior voting rights.

SEBI (Delisting of Equity Shares) Regulations, 2009

Regulation 3 w.r.t applicability of the regulation

The term ‘shares’ shall include equity shares having superior voting rights.

The said amendment can be accessed here: http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/209243.pdf

SEBI (Buy-Back of Securities) Regulations, 2018

Regulation 3 w.r.t applicability of the regulation

The term ‘shares’ shall include equity shares having superior voting rights.

The said amendment can be accessed here: http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/209214.pdf

Highlights of 2nd Amendment to PIT Regulations

-by Dibisha Mishra

(dibisha@vinodkothari.com ; corplaw@vinodkothari.com)

 

SEBI vide Notification dated 25th July, 2019 further amended the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015. The major part of this amendment is to make curative changes in the Regulations, in response to difficulties expressed by the stakeholders. In this regard, VK&Co. also had occasion to make representation to SEBI, a few of which have been brought in via this amendment.

 

Highlights of the SEBI (PIT) (Second Amendment) Regulations, 2019.are as follows:

 

  1. Employees having access to unpublished price sensitive information are to be identified as ‘designated persons’ [DPs]: Keeping the intent of regulating and monitoring trading by such employees, the earlier provision of identifying them as ‘designated employees’ was merely a laxity in drafting since no corresponding duties/obligations were put upon ‘designated employees’ anywhere in the PIT Regulations.
  2. Mandatory closure of trading window from the end of every quarter till 48 hours after the declaration of financial results [the word ‘can’ substituted by ‘shall’]
  3. Permitted transactions by DPs while trading window is closed:

a. off-market inter-se transfer between DPs having possession of the same unpublished price sensitive information where both parties have made informed trade decision;

b. transaction through block-deal mechanism between persons having possession of the same unpublished price sensitive information where both parties have made informed trade decision;

c. arising out of a statutory or regulatory obligation to carry out a bona fide transaction;

d. exercise of stock options in respect of which the exercise price was pre-determined;

e. pursuant to a trading plan;

f. pledge of shares for a bonafide purpose like raising of funds subject to pre-clearance by the compliance office

g. acquisition by conversion of warrants or debentures, subscribing to rights issue, further public issue, preferential allotment or tendering of shares in a buyback offer, open offer, delisting offer: Difficulties were frequently being faced by companies as to whether the trading window bar will apply to corporate actions involving transaction in shares. This amendment makes a clear way out for the same. While only a few corporate actions are listed in the amendment, these should be taken as illustrative rather than exhaustive.

4. In order to qualify as a “material financial relationship”, payment by way of loan or gift should flow from a designated person equivalent to at least 25% of his annual income [excluding payment is based on arm’s length transactions] in last twelve months.

5. Educational institutions from which designated persons have graduated, is to be disclosed to the intermediary or fiduciary on an annual basis and as and when the information changes.

Unregulated Deposit Banning Bill passed by Lok Sabha,2019

 

The Unregulated Deposit Banning Bill, 2019[1] was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 24th July, 2019 and has since been passed.

The Bill enacts into law the provisions promulgated by a Presidential Ordinance[2] from 21st February 2019.

From our preliminary comparison, it appears that the Bill is largely the same as the text of the Ordinance.

However, a very significant, though very vague, amendment is the insertion of section 41 in the Bill which provides as under: “The provisions of this Act shall not apply to deposits taken in the ordinary course of business”

Of course, one will keep wondering as to what does this provision imply? What exactly is deposit taking in ordinance course of business? Is it to exclude deposits or loans taken for business purposes? Notably, almost all the so-called deposits that were taken during the Chit funds scam in West Bengal were apparently for some business purpose, though they were effectively nothing but money-for-money transactions. While the intent of this exception may be quell fears expressed across the country by small businesses that even taking of loans for business purposes will be barred, the provision does not jell with the meaning of excluded deposits which gives very specific carve-outs.

Also, one may potentially argue that deposit-taking itself may be a business. Or, deposits sourced may be used for money-lending business, which is also a deposit taken in ordinary course of business.

Basically, the insertion of this provision in section 41 may completely rob the statute of its intent and impact, even though it has an understandable purpose.

Please see our write ups on the Ordinance

 


[1] http://164.100.47.4/BillsTexts/LSBillTexts/PassedLoksabha/182C_2019_LS_Eng.pdf
[2]https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Banning%20of%20Unregulated%20Deposit%20Schemes%20Ordinance%2C%202019.pdf

SEBI requires companies to be serious in reporting Insider Trading lapses

Pammy Jaiswal

Partner, Vinod Kothari and Company

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

The listed entities are burdened with the compliance requirements under numerous regulations issued by SEBI including the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (‘PIT Regulations’). The said regulations lay down various to dos for the listed companies as well as the designated persons (‘DP’) for the purpose of regulating and prohibiting the insider trading in the securities of the listed company.

SEBI has vide its circular[1] dated 19th July, 2019 laid a format for reporting insider trading lapses thereby forcing all companies to follow a standard reporting format. The existing practice of companies using rather informal and self- generated reporting formats will no longer be available to them.

It is not that insider trading lapses noted by companies are those of profiteering based on Unpublished Price Sensitive Information (UPSI). Most of the noted instances in practice are technical and unintentional breaches of either the trading window closure or contra trading restrictions. Most of these are reported to the audit committee or stakeholder’s relationship committee which typically takes action based on the gravity of the offence. However, reporting to SEBI was done on a rather diminutive manner.

Further, the circular also provides for recording the violations in the digital database maintained by the compliance officer under the PIT Regulations for the purpose of taking appropriate action against the offender. The said circular is effective with immediate effect.

Current Reporting Scenario

The current practice of the corporates for reporting the violation under the code (either for entering into contra-trade within a period of six months or trading during the closure of trading window, etc.) along with the action taken by the entity is diverse. While some companies used to mark a copy of the reprimand to SEBI while sending the same to the concerned DP or their immediate relatives, others used to send a brief of the violation along with the action taken to SEBI depending on the frequency and gravity of the violation so made in accordance with their respective codes.

Revised Reporting

The revised reporting format contains all the required fields for the entity (listed entity, intermediary or fiduciary) to report the violation to SEBI. Following is the summary of details that is mandatory required to be filled up about the entity, the DP or his immediate relative and the violation along with the action taken by the entity:

Information about the entity Information about the DP/ immediate relative Transaction details
·            Name and capacity of the entity.

·            Action taken by the entity.

·            Reasons for the action taken.

·     Name and PAN.

 

·     Designation and functional role of DP.

 

·     Whether a part of the promoter and promoter group or holding CXO position.

 

 

·      Name of the scrip

·      No. and value of shares traded (including pledge)

·      In case trading value exceeds Rs. 10 lakhs date of disclosure made under regulation 7 of the PIT Regulations by both the entity as well as the concerned person.

 

·      Details of violation observed under the PIT Regulations.

 

·      Instances of any violation in the previous financial year.

Concluding Remarks

Evidently, the format contains concrete information about the violation which will place SEBI in a better position to oversee and take on record the instances of violation taking place in the regulated entities. While the current practice had deficiencies in terms of the basic information supplied to SBI, the revised reporting format will take care of the same henceforth.

However, the prompt reporting will be a task for the entities. At the same time, SEBI will now be in receipt of the complete information on the offence and may take strict action against the offender or may even direct the entities to take stricter action in cases where it feels the action taken is not commensurate with the nature and gravity of the violation.

 

Our other resources on SEBI PIT Regulations can be viewed here

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/jul-2019/standardizing-reporting-of-violations-related-to-code-of-conduct-under-sebi-prohibition-of-insider-trading-regulations-2015_43618.html

Abrupt auditor resignations: SEBI seeks transparency

By Vinod Kothari & Vinita Nair,

Partner, Vinod Kothari & Co

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Original: July 19, 2019

Version: October 19, 2019

 

A SEBI proposal by way of a Consultative Paper[1] dated July 18, 2019 to amend Reg. 33 of SEBI (LODR) Regulations, 2015 (Regulations) sought to lay down in the rule book of listed entities that when auditors want to resign in the middle of an auditing assignment, they cannot be allowed to leave citing reasons such as “pre-occupation”. They must be encouraged and asked to open their heart, and speak out the real reason, or confirm that there is no reason other than the one that they mention while resigning. Also, the auditor must not leave the auditee in the lurch, and complete the on-going audit engagement to the point of completing the audit of the year or limited review of the quarter. The resignation must be discussed with the Audit Committee chairman, and thence, to the Audit Committee, highlighting the concerns, if any. The views of the Audit Committee will be filed before the stock exchanges.

In essence, the proposal of SEBI tried to implement what seems to be the clear intent – that the veil of secrecy behind auditor resignation, where everyone can sense that everything is not alright but does not get to know what exactly it is – should be lifted.

The Consultative Paper was open for public comments till 8th August, 2019. Accordingly, on 18th October, 2019, SEBI came out with a Circular[2] implementing the aforesaid proposal. While the Circular does not amend Reg. 33 of Regulations, as proposed, it has laid down the doables for the auditors of the listed entities and material subsidiaries at the time of resignation.

Inspiration of the amendment

The inspiration of the amendment is the recent turmoil in the corporate sector, where, mostly in the midst of worsening financial position, auditors put in papers. There are rumours of auditors’ discomfort with the financial statements; mostly people smell transactions that may involve transfer of assets to connected entities, inflation of profits or hiding of losses. One wonders as to why most of these resignations come only when the financial position of the entity is suddenly worsening – is it that in good times, financial statements are immune from such vulnerable transactions or practices? However, it mostly seems that an impending default will bring the entity into regulatory glare, and the auditor may have to face persecution action.

What has made the auditor fraternity even more jittered is the action of the regulators against auditors of a failed financial entity, seeking to use the very heavy provisions of section 140 (5) of the Companies Act. It is just a matter of time when the country will witness class action suits against auditors, which abound in the Western world.

The instinctive auditor action in such cases is, to try to control the damage by quitting the scene, rather than qualifying the statements which, in the past, have been affirmed by the same auditor. Of course, the reasons cited can be as slippery as “pre-occupation” or lack of bandwidth.

It was reported in 2018 that the Minister of State for Corporate Affairs, P P Chaudhary’s written reply to the Rajya Sabha stated that as per the filings in MCA 21 registry, auditors of 204 listed entities had resigned since January 1, 2018 to July 17, 2018.

ICAI also constituted a Group and the task of developing guidance for the members was entrusted to the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AASB). In December 2018, ICAI released ‘Implementation Guide on Resignation/Withdrawal from an Engagement to Perform Audit of Financial Statements[3] which provides matters to be included in the resignation letter (Para 19) which is similar to the Annex-B of the SEBI Consultative Paper. It additionally required the response from the management or those charged with governance, on the written communication made by the auditor, to be included in the resignation letter.

Is it wrong to resign?

No, as ICAI’s auditing standards (SA-705) provides the situation under which an auditor may resign from the audit. If the auditor concludes that the possible effects on the financial statements of undetected misstatements, if any, could be both material and pervasive so that a qualification of the opinion would be inadequate to communicate the gravity of the situation, the auditor shall resign from the audit, where practicable and not prohibited by law or regulation.

Is it necessary to cite reason for resignation?

Section 140 (2) of Companies Act, 2013 mandates an auditor to indicate the reason and other facts as regard to its resignation while filing the statement of resignation with the Registrar and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, where applicable.

What is the meaning of resignation?

It is important to note that the appointment of an auditor is done for a term of 5 years. Therefore, even if an auditor resigns after completion of the audit for a financial year, within the term of 5 years, it is still a case of resignation.

Provisions of section 139 (9) may be interpreted to mean that the auditor may actually state before a general meeting, within the term of 5 years, that he is not willing to be reappointed. However, is that a case of resignation?

Read with section 140 (2), even an unwillingness to be reappointed becomes a case of resignation. This is so because the appointment is done for 5 years, and the ratification of the appointment at the annual general meeting, every year during the 5 year term, has been done way with by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017 w.e.f. May 7, 2018.

Therefore, the following are some examples of what may be construed as a case of resignation:

(a) The auditor was appointed in the AGM of Year 1, for completing the audit for FY 1 to FY 5, until the conclusion of the AGM for year 5. At the end of Year 2, after completing the audit of year 2, auditor gives a letter to the management that the auditor is not willing to audit for year 3.

(b) Same case as above, however, instead of the auditor indicating unwillingness to be reappointed, the audit committee while evaluating the performance of the auditor does not recommend continuation of appointment.

(c) Same case as (a), however, the auditor becomes ineligible to continue.

 

Case (a) is a case of resignation; (b) is a case of removal and (c) is a case of vacation of office resulting in casual vacancy.

SEBI’s prescription: Reveal the truth

The resigning auditor shall reveal all the reasons for resignation in the resignation letter along with the efforts made by the auditor prior to resignation. Whom the concern was raised? In relation to what the concern was raised? Why the concern was not addressed – due to a management-imposed limitation or circumstances beyond the control of the management. The auditor is expected to pour his heart out in the resignation letter, which is in line with the prescription made in ICAI’s implementation guide.

Role of Audit Committee

There are recourse available with the auditors of the listed entity/ material subsidiary as follows:

  1. In case, the listed entity/ material subsidiary does not co-operate or they do not provide information as required by the auditors, which may hamper the audit process, the Auditors may approach the Chairman of the Audit Committee and the Chairman shall receive such concern directly without waiting for the quarterly meetings.
  2. In case, the auditor proposes to resign, all concerns with respect to the resignation, along with the relevant documents shall be brought to the notice of the Audit Committee. In cases, where the proposed resignation is due to non-receipt of information / explanation from the company, the auditor shall inform the Audit Committee of the details of information / explanation sought and not provided by the management, as applicable.
  3. The auditor can provide an appropriate disclaimer in the audit report in accordance with the ICAI/ NFRA if the requisite information is not provided to the auditor as sought.

After the auditor approaches the Chairman/ Audit Committee, the Audit Committee has to communicate its views to the management and the auditor, which is also required to be disclosed to the stock exchange within 24 hours after the date of such Audit committee meeting.

As per the Regulations, the Audit Committee is responsible for the appointment, performance evaluation, ensuring independence of the auditors, finalising the audit plan and reviewing and monitoring effectiveness of the audit process. In view of the Circular, the companies shall now be required to modify the letter of appointment of the existing auditors. Further, the Audit Committee is also required to mandatorily review management letters / letters of internal control weaknesses issued by the statutory auditors.

Auditor’s duty to complete pending assignments

While the language of the Consultative Paper seemed unclear, the  Circular has clarified that the auditor shall be required to complete the audit in the following manner before resigning:

  1. If the resignation of the auditor is tendered within 45 days from the end of the quarter- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter.
  2. If the resignation of the auditor is tendered after 45 days from the end of the quarter- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter as well as the next quarter.
  3. If the auditor has signed the limited review/ audit report for the first 3 quarters- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for the last quarter of such financial year as well as the audit report for such financial year.

A comparison between the Consultation Paper and the Circular

A quick snapshot of the major highlights of the Circular along with a comparison with what was proposed in the Consultation Paper is given below:

Sl. No. Requirement SEBI’s Consultation Paper SEBI’s Circular Impact of the change
1 Time of resignation i. If the auditor has signed the audit report for all the quarters (limited review/ audit) of a financial year, except the last quarter, then the auditor shall finalize the audit report for the said financial year before such resignation.

 

ii. In all other cases, the auditor shall issue limited review/audit report for that quarter before such resignation (i.e. previous quarter in reference to the date of resignation).

 

iii. In case of material unlisted subsidiary, the auditor shall issue the limited review/audit report for that financial year/ quarter, as applicable, before such resignation (i.e. previous financial year/ quarter in reference to the date of resignation)

 

iv.                 i. Resignation of the auditor within 45 days from the end of the quarter- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter.

v.

ii.                   Ii. Resignation of the auditor after 45 days from the end of the quarter- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter as well as the next quarter.

iii.

iv.                 Iii. If the auditor has signed the limited review/ audit report for the first 3 quarters- the auditor shall, before such resignation, issue the limited review/ audit report for the last quarter of such financial year as well as the audit report for such financial year.

With respect to the quarterly audits, the auditors shall be obligated to issue limited review report for the next quarter as well where the resignation is after 45 days from the end of the quarter. This shall provide the listed entity a reasonable time to search another auditor.

 

Further, with respect to the rest, the same was in line with the proposal provided in the Consultation Paper.

2. Reporting of concerns to Audit Committee i.                Approach the Chairman of the Audit Committee and the Chairman to receive the concern directly and immediately without waiting for the quarterly meetings.

 

ii.              All concerned reasons alongwith the relevant documents for shall be brought to the Audit Committee’s notice in case the resignation is due to non-receipt of information/ explanation from the company.

 

i.                   Approach the Chairman of the Audit Committee and the Chairman to receive the concern directly and immediately without waiting for the quarterly meetings.

 

ii.                 All concerned reasons alongwith the relevant documents for shall be brought to the Audit Committee’s notice in case the resignation is due to non-receipt of information/ explanation from the company.

The consultation Paper as well as the Circular are in sync.

 

The change shall enhance the role of the Chairman of the Audit Committee w.r.t. reporting the concerns to the management.

3. Deliberation by the Audit Committee Audit Committee shall deliberate on the matter and communicate its views to the management and the auditor. Audit Committee shall deliberate on the matter and communicate its views to the management and the auditor not later than the date of the next Audit Committee meeting. The Circular is in the line with the proposal made in the Consultation Paper.

 

The change shall keep the management in loop and it shall also know the detailed reasons of the resignation of the auditor within a specific time period.

 

4. Disclaimer in case of non-receipt of information from the entity If the reason for the auditor’s resignation is the entity not providing information, the auditor shall provide an appropriate disclaimer in the audit report to that extent. The auditor shall provide an appropriate disclaimer in the audit report, which may be in accordance with the Standards of Auditing as specified by ICAI / NFRA in case the entity does not provide information as sought. Again the Circular is in line with the Consultation Paper.

 

Such change shall now put the entity under an obligation to provide necessary support/ relevant information/ co-operation to the auditor in order to complete the audit.

 

5. Ensuring proper terms and conditions in the letter of appointment No such proposal The aforesaid shall be included in the letter of appointment of the auditor.

 

Where the auditor has already been appointed, the company shall issue modified letter of appointment.

Considering the appointment of auditors must have been made in listed entities in the AGM held in the FY 19-20 and shall be valid till FY 2023-24, actionable on the part of the listed entities is to amend/ modify the terms of engagement and issue a fresh letter of appointment to the auditors.

 

6. Certification in Annual Secretarial Compliance Report (ASC) No such proposal A practicing company secretary shall be required to certify the aforesaid in the ASC Report. The same shall be an additional responsibility of the practicing company secretary while issuing ASC Report.

 

7. Disclosure of the views of the Audit Committee’s to the Stock Exchange The views of the Audit Committee and the Board of Directors of the entity be required to be submitted to the stock exchanges along with the disclosure of the resignation letter of the auditor in the format as prescribed.

 

Post the deliberation of the views by the Audit Committee, the same shall be disclosed to the Stock Exchanges as soon as possible but not later than 24 hours after the date of such Audit Committee meeting. The Circular lays down a time which aligns with the requirement of Regulation 7(A) of Part A para A of Schedule III of the SEBI Listing Regulations.

 

The Circular does not prescribe any format for disclosing the views of the Audit Committee to the Stock Exchange.

 

8. Format of resignation letter Provided as Annexure- B Provided as Annexure- A Slight cosmetic changes have been made in the format.

Concluding remarks

Thankfully, for all Indians, one can relate most tricky situations in life to a Bollywood song, and that really helps to dismiss the gravity of the matter. When it comes to something like auditor’s resignations (judaai), or auditors’ silence (khamoshi), there will a large number of songs or flicks on such situations, evidently the popular themes for Bollywood. Therefore, without claiming to be the best for the situation, here is one that may possibly help to lighten the pain that SEBI and investors may be having:

कभी ऐसा लगता है

दिल में एक राज़ है

जिसे कहना चाहूँ, पर मैं कह पाऊँ ना

आँखों ही आँखों में कह जाती है जो ये

खामोशियों की ये कैसी ज़ुबां

मैंने सुना जो ना उसने कहा

 

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/web/?file=https://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/jul-2019/1563449963980.pdf#page=1&zoom=auto,-15,842

[2] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/oct-2019/resignation-of-statutory-auditors-from-listed-entities-and-their-material-subsidiaries_44703.html

 

[3] https://resource.cdn.icai.org/52929aasbicai-igr.pdf

Core competencies of Directors: the new disclosure requirement for listed entities

By Munmi Phukon

Principal Manager, Vinod Kothari & Company

munmi@vinodkothari.com

Introduction

How does a person get into the board of directors of a listed entity? Simply because he happens to be a majority shareholder, or the son of the promoter, or a morning-walk friend of the promoter? Or, is it that a listed company is expecting supervisory leadership to come from a body consisting of individuals with diverse skills and competencies? What are those key competences and skill sets required from directors, and which of the company’s directors possess which of these abilities? These are questions that listed entities and their stakeholders might have either not put before themselves, or even if considered, may not have had structured answers to these questions. However, come this year, every listed entity shall give a list of core skills/ expertise/ competencies of the Board members, and come next year, the names of the directors who actually possess such skills/ expertise/ competencies.

In the above para, one is referring to a new provision under Para C of Schedule V pertaining to the contents of corporate governance report which reads as follows:

“C. Corporate Governance Report: The following disclosures shall be made in the section on the corporate governance of the annual report.

XXX

(h) A chart or a matrix setting out the skills/expertise/competence of the board of directors specifying the following:

(i) With effect from the financial year ending March 31, 2019, the list of core skills/expertise/competencies identified by the board of directors as required in the context of its business(es) and sector(s) for it to function effectively and those actually available with the board; and

(ii) With effect from the financial year ended March 31, 2020, the names of directors who have such skills / expertise / competence.

Importance & objectives of having a diverse Board

The importance of a diverse and skilled Board is recognised around the world. It is more than a necessity considering the complex and dynamic business environment. The Board is the set of leaders who provide comprehensive guidance, support and direction to the company towards its success. The objective of having skilled Board is manifold considering the involvement of public money, be it of the public shareholders, lenders or other creditors. Stakeholders are concerned about the attitude of the firm towards corporate governance as a diverse set of individuals collectively known as Board cannot take a casual approach on the management of the firm sitting on the pile of public money. Therefore, it is always required for the NRC to have a clear view as to what is being expected from the directors, what would be the set of skills, competencies, expertise, knowledge etc. that would be possessed by the directors, whether the same is broad based and also, to ensure an effective evaluation mechanism.

What does law require?

Till the amendments in the Listing Regulations coming into force, Regulation 36 required disclosure of the nature of the expertise in specific functional areas of a proposed appointee including a person seeking re-appointment to the shareholders. Further, Rule 5 of the Companies (Appointment and Qualification of Directors) Rules provided the qualification of the independent directors as persons who shall possess appropriate skills, experience and knowledge in one or more fields of finance, law, management, sales, marketing, administration, research, corporate governance, technical operations or other disciplines related to the company’s business.

The new requirement of disclosure has been framed based on the Kotak Committee Recommendations whose rationale was primarily based on the fact that the existing requirement of law was not sufficient to the shareholders for their adequate analysis whether the Board of the company has sufficient mix of diverse expertise/ skill- sets.

The broad parameters[1]

The Board is responsible for shaping the future of the organisation within its fiduciary characteristics. Therefore, identifying the key competencies of the Board members is very much essential to ensure that the qualified persons undertake this cardinal role. Globally, identifying the key competencies of Board members is considered as the step towards a successful Board. Broadly, the parameters for identifying key competencies or skill- set can be categorised as follows:

Industry knowledge/ experience

Having experience in and knowledge of the industry in which the organisation operates is one of the key competencies of a Board member. This is required for achieving the objectives of the organisation while operating effectively, responsibly, legally and sustainably. The Board members are required to demonstrate an understanding of-

  • the relevant laws, rules, regulation policies applicable to the organisation/ industry/ sector and level/ status of compliances thereof by the organisation
  • the best corporate governance practices, relevant governance codes, governance structure, processes and practices followed by the organisation
  • business ethics, ethical policies, codes and practices of the organisation
  • the structures and systems which enable the organisation to effectively identify, asses and manage risks and crises
  • international practice

Technical skills/ experience       

To assist with the ongoing aspects of Board’s role, the members are required to possess technical/ professional skills and specialist knowledge. The directors need to be able to obtain, analyse, interpret and use information effectively to develop plans and take appropriate decisions. In order to assess possession of such skills, the person will be required to have knowledge about-

  • how to interpret financial statements and accounts in order to assess the financial health of an organisation
  • the sources of finance available to an organisation and their related merits and risks
  • how to assess the financial value of an organisation and potential business opportunities
  • importance of information technology in the organisation
  • marketing or other specific skills required for the effective performance of the organisation

Behavioural competencies/ personal attributes

Displaying high standards of conduct, ability to take responsibility for their own performance etc. are some of the behavioural competencies which the directors are required to possess. Interpersonal skills such as good communication skills, relationship building capacity etc. will come under this category. In brief, the following will be sub- sets under this head-

  • Integrity and ethical standards
  • Mentoring abilities
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Managing people and achieving change
  • Curiosity and courage
  • Genuine interest
  • Instinct
  • Active contribution

Strategic expertise 

To create and implement effective strategies, a thorough knowledge of the strategic process is required. The ability to think strategically enables directors to propose ideas, options and plans that take advantage of available opportunities while reflecting a broad and future-oriented perspective. Having an understanding of the need for a clear vision and purpose to guide the strategy, models and methods of strategic analysis, option analysis the factors involved in successful strategy implementation by the directors is required for giving a strategic direction to the organisation. The sub- sets under this head may be as below:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Vision and value creation
  • Strategy Development
  • Strategy implementation and change

Mind- set or attitude

An ethical mind- set demonstrates a high standards of conduct. Further, professional attitude and independent mind- set enables director to provide the challenge and rigour required to help the Board achieve a comprehensive understanding of information and options, as well as high standards of decision-making. The head may be segregated into the following:

  • Ethical
  • Professional
  • Performance oriented
  • Independent
  • Aware of self and others

Other skills

Other skills may include decision making, communication, leadership, influencing, risk oversight, risk management, stakeholder relations etc. Good decision-making skills is required in order to arrive at a course of action in a timely manner that provides a clear direction and moves the organisation forward. Similarly, strong leadership skills enable directors to solve problems, cope up with the crises and change, and inspire others to follow them in pursuit of the values and goals of the organisation. The ability to build good networks and relationships within and beyond the organisation is important for the director to gain influence, have impact and progress organisational goals. The ability to communicate effectively through a variety of modes and channels and with a range of audiences is necessary for directors to work successfully with others and to fulfil their duties on the Board. Directors need to understand how to deliver effective leadership, build good stakeholder relations and develop a strategically aligned and values-based organisational culture in order to achieve good organisational performance. Therefore, the sub- sets hereunder may be-

  • decision making skills
  • communication skills
  • leadership skills
  • influencing
  • risk oversight
  • risk management skills
  • stakeholder relations

Suggestive format of reporting

Broad parameter Specific skills/ expertise/ competency

 

Director 1 Director 2 Director 3
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Industry knowledge & experience

 

 

Understanding of the relevant laws, rules, regulation policies applicable to the organisation/ industry/ sector and level/ status of compliances thereof by the organisation

 

Understanding of the best corporate governance practices, relevant governance codes, governance structure, processes and practices followed by the organisation

 

Understanding of business ethics, ethical policies, codes and practices of the organisation

 

Understanding of the structures and systems which enable the organisation to effectively identify, asses and manage risks and crises

 

Understanding of international practice

 

Conclusion

The amendments require listing out of the key skills/ competencies of the Board as a part of the corporate governance report for FY 18-19. From subsequent FYs, the disclosure will have to be by way of a matrix signifying the directors actually carrying such skills. It is anticipated that such a disclosure will help the shareholders to analyse the diversity of expertise/ skill – sets of the Board. This is believed that disclosure of each of the skills against the directors will make them responsible for each of the skills. Therefore, a director will not be able to escape responsibility with the shield of immunity provided by law which is circumstantial.

 

[1] Source:

  1. https://www.asaecenter.org/resources/articles/foundation/2018/defining-board-competencies
  2. https://www.iod.com/Portals/0/PDFs/IoD%20Competency%20framework.pdf?ver=2017-10-06-135816-827
  3. https://www.effectivegovernance.com.au/services/director-skills-competency-assessment/
  4. https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/resources/director-tools/practical-tools-for-directors/board-composition/key-competencies-for-directors
  5. https://www.effectivegovernance.com.au/services/director-skills-competency-assessment/