Using SERPs to Create a Balanced Executive Compensation Plan

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Energizing synergistic strategic alliances in order to help fulfill each client’s specific needs, the team at Fulcrum Partners LLC is trusted by many of the biggest names in business today, including both publicly held and large private companies to provide executive compensation and benefits consulting. Fulcrum Partners, LLC. was founded in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, in 2007, by four former senior consultants of the Executive Benefits Division of Clark Consulting (a division of European-based AEGON, a large international insurer). Today Fulcrum Partners has grown to a team of 15 who serve their clients with more than 200 years of combined professional experience.

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Using SERPs to Create a Balanced Executive Compensation Plan

  1. 1. WHITE PAPER Using SERPs to Create a Balanced Executive Compensation Plan By Peter Lupo and Bruce Brownell
  2. 2. 2 USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED RISKS AND REWARDS ... Well-balanced risk and rewards are one of the foundations of an effective compensation pro- gram. Over the past two decades, stock-based incentives have been the primary means used by companies to motivate and retain valued executives. The economic downturn, however, has high- lighted the extent to which the design flaws of some equity programs may have encouraged executives to take excessive risks that are contrary to the long-term financial interests of the company and of the shareholders. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that stock price alone does not always correlate with either executive performance or sustainable long-term shareholder value. SUPPLEMENTAL EXECUTIVE RETIREMENT PROGRAM In many situations, the introduc- tion of a supplemental executive retirement program, (SERP) helps promote a more diversified ‘portfolio’ approach to executive rewards. Peter Lupo and Bruce Brownell Executive Compensation Program Securities offered through ValMark Securities, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC 130 Springside Drive, Suite 300, Akron, Ohio 44333-2431 800.765.5201 Fulcrum Partners, LLC is a separate entity from ValMark Securities, Inc. SMSM
  3. 3. 3 With a more diversified portfolio approach, companies may be able to avoid the potential for excess leverage in pay programs incorporating primarily stock-based incentives, thereby better balancing the overall risk/reward equation. Other benefits of this type of approach include: Helping executives maintain meaningful equity ownership within a balanced investment portfolio. Retaining top talent in challenging business circumstances through extended vesting of a portion of total pay. Facilitating clawbacks (money or benefits that are distributed and then taken back as a result of special circumstances) of payouts based on discredited financial statements. SERPS THEN AND NOW Until recently, most traditional SERPs were in the form of defined benefit plans that primarily were intended to recognize pay above Internal Revenue Code compensation limits, and in some cases, to provide benefits based on enhanced benefit formulas. In recent years, such designs have been criticized as “stealth pay” that operates beneath shareholders’ radar and is not tied to business performance. The term became popular several years ago in reference to the difficulty, under older disclosure Requirements, of understanding the value of the benefits provided by such plans. While there are exceptions, the promise of a guaranteed lifetime pension for an executive is now generally considered to be inconsistent with shareholder expectations and inter- ests. As a result, companies have begun offering SERP designs that, similar to the trend of other forms of executive pay, are more often based on performance than tenure and are intended to better align pay programs with best practices. USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION PROGRAM SM
  4. 4. 4 THE CHALLENGES OF LONG-TERM INCENTIVES BASED ONLY ON EQUITY The combination of the growing use of performance-based equity incentives and height- ened ownership requirements has had an unintended consequence. Over time, many executives have accumulated an inordinate amount of their net worth in company stock. At the same time, the market has tended to view negatively any major equity sale by cor- porate leaders. As a result, senior-level executives needing additional liquidity for a home purchase, tuition, retirement or other major financial event, often have found themselves constrained by the combination of ownership requirements and market perceptions. BALANCING INTERESTS Such a situation may drive the executive to consider other employment opportunities to escape the onus of equity requirements. In response, more companies are considering the use of a defined contribution SERP to mitigate those risks while maintaining the align- ment of executive and shareholder interests. With a defined contribution SERP, the company credits a contribution to an account maintained on behalf of an executive. That contribution can be defined in a number of ways, including discretionary contributions, formula-based contributions, or contributions that are tied to company performance. The account balance (or notional balance, since these programs are typically not funded) is typically invested in a choice of investment vehicles established under the program, similar to a Section 401(k) plan. Company stock can also be offered as an investment alternative. Additionally, the defined contribution SERP can be designed to increase total pay value if the company believes the executive compensation program is not competitive, or if it would enhance the company’s ability to attract and retain executives. Alternatively, to avoid increasing the value of total pay, the company can reduce incentive compensation opportunities to offset the value of the SERP contribution. Using these approaches, a company implementing a defined contribution SERP can bet- ter balance its overall executive compensation program. From the executive’s viewpoint, USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION PROGRAM SM
  5. 5. 5 the compensation package is made more stable, more diversified, and less risky, since the design can be less focused on incentive compensation. CONSIDER YOUR TYPICAL CFO As part of a recent assignment, we gathered benchmark pay data for the CFO of a $1 billion general industry company. This executive had a target long-term incentive of $380,000 at median pay practices, or about 110% of his $345,000 salary. In lieu of continuing his annual equity grant of $380,000, the company could reduce the grant in exchange for an equivalent SERP contribution. The executive would then be given a choice of low- to high-risk investments for the SERP, possibly but not necessarily includ- ing company stock. Coupling a smaller equity grant with a SERP contribution can promote the goals outlined at the beginning of this article by: Better balancing fixed and incentive-based pay. By adopting a defined contribution SERP, a company can reduce incentive compensation, which is typically the largest component of total pay. Keeping total pay opportunities attractive to executives, even in a difficult business and economic climate. When stock prices decline, a SERP account need not be invested in company stock or broader-based equity funds. Extending vesting of some portion of total pay. In contrast to traditional equity grants that typically have three- to four-year vesting, SERPs can have longer or age-specific vesting – for example, to age 60. The latter approach can be particularly effective in retaining senior executives in a down market. Maintaining meaningful and reasonable stock ownership requirements, with- out overexposing the executive to company stock. If company stock is offered as an investment alternative, the SERP can help the executive meet minimum stock ownership guidelines. By including a clawback, the company can recoup SERP contributions in cases of fraud or for contributions based on inaccurate financial statements. USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION PROGRAM SM
  6. 6. 6 EXAMPLE Consider a hypotheticali. CFO who is expecting an annual equity grant of $380,000. Lowering the value by 25%, or $95,000, would leave an annual grant of $285,000, or 80% of salary. The executive gains the opportunity to build significant deferred value in a SERP account, reducing his or her at-risk pay for deferred compensation that is not related to company performance. In this example, trimming the $95,000 potential SERP contribution by 25% (to account for the SERP being less risky) would leave an annual contribution of about $71,000 per year. If the SERP earned 7% annually, the executive would end up with a $1 million SERP benefit over ten years, roughly equivalent to a $90,000 lifetime annual pension benefit starting at age 65. This example shows how reducing long-term incentive grants and substituting a defined contribution SERP can promote a more balanced executive compensation program, with- out materially changing the overall program design. SERPs can be modeled to weight the multiple goals of motivating, incentivizing and retaining an executive over the long term. The company can target total cash income replacement ratios and specific dollar targets, or tailor the plan’s vesting schedule to the company’s overall goals. CONCLUSION Until recently, companies could count on a well-designed, equity-based incentive pro- gram to deliver wealth to the executive team over the long-run if they delivered strong performance. Today, executives are more keenly aware of the vulnerability of their in- vestment portfolios to market swings and corrections beyond their control, as well as the eventual impact on their retirement cash flow. For companies, executives, and sharehold- ers seeking a balanced executive compensation program that continues to attract execu- tives while reducing incentive compensation risk, adding a thoughtfully designed SERP to the total rewards portfolio may make sense. i. The examples cited above are hypothetical and do not represent an actual investment. There is no guarantee similar results can be achieved. ©2013 Fulcrum Partners, LLC. No part of this may be reproduced by any means without the express written permission of Fulcrum Partners LLC. USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION PROGRAM SM
  7. 7. 7 USING SERPS TO CREATE A BALANCED PETER LUPO Peter Lupo, Managing Director and Head of the New York office, joined Pearl Meyer & Partners in 2006 with more than 20 years experience with executive compensation and benefits programs in a wide range of indus- tries. He has worked extensively with Compensation Committees and man- agement covering a variety of needs, including developing compensation philosophies for national and global companies; drafting CD&As; develop- ing incentive designs; and advising on change-in-control, executive benefits and perquisites issues. Before joining PM&P, Peter Lupo held the national compensation practice leader role with Aon Consulting’s National Compensation Practice. He also has served as a Principal and Senior Executive Compensation Consultant with Mercer Human Resources Consulting and as a Bene- fits Consultant at Towers Perrin. A graduate of Stony Brook University, Peter holds an MBA from Long Island University. Executive Compensation Program Bruce Brownell is a founder of Fulcrum Partners, LLC, responsible for analysis, design, integration, administration, and communication of executive compensation and benefit strategies. With more than 25 years in financial consulting, including the past 15 years exclusively in Executive Benefits, Bruce has consulted in for-profit industries, including engi- neering, manufacturing, distribution, health care, and technology. An expert in IRC Section 409A, his experience covers the full range of executive benefit plans, including the integration of equity based plans, tax deferred executive compensation arrangements, supplemental retire- ment strategies, and other executive benefit and performance based plans. Bruce has also helped pioneer Fulcrum’s Executive Benefits Bench- marking practice, providing a unique deliverable in the benefits market- place. A former Senior Vice President at Clark Consulting, Inc. • CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ • Financial Planning Association • Association for Advanced Life Underwriters • Ameri- can College of Corporate Directors, Advanced Professional Director Certi- fication • Kenyon College, AB BRUCE BROWNELL ©2013 Fulcrum Partners LLC SM Securities offered through Registered Representatives of ValMark Securities, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC, 130 Springside Drive, Suite 300, Akron, OH 44333-2431, Tel: 1-800-765-5201. Investment Advisory Services offered through ValMark Advisers, Inc., which is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Fulcrum Partners LLC is a separate entity from ValMark Securities, Inc. and ValMark Advisers, Inc.
  8. 8. 8 Contact: Fulcrum Partners LLC 818 A1A North, Suite 304 P.O. Box 1909 Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004-1909 904.296.2563 © 2013 Fulcrum Partners LLC Securities offered through ValMark Securities, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC 130 Springside Drive, Suite 300 Akron, Ohio 44333-2431 800.765.5201 Fulcrum Partners, LLC is a separate entity from ValMark Securities, Inc. SM

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