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Jul 09, 2021

The week in GRC: Law firms hiring DEI chiefs and Biden targets corporate consolidation

This week’s governance, compliance and risk-management stories from around the web

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government said it would tighten rules for companies seeking to sell shares overseas and strengthen oversight of foreign-listed companies, which could curb attempts by companies to raise money in the US. The move comes as Chinese regulators intensify scrutiny of technology companies that recently listed in the US.

The government said in new guidelines that regulators need to deepen cross-border co-operation over audit supervision and amend laws and regulations ‘on data security, cross-border data flow and other confidential information management.’

– According to CNBC, AMC Entertainment said it has tabled a proposal that would have asked its shareholders to allow the movie theater company to issue up to 25 mn more shares. In an SEC filing, AMC said the proposal has been withdrawn from an agenda for its upcoming AGM. Chief executive Adam Aron also announced the news on Twitter, saying: ‘It’s no secret I think shareholders should authorize 25 mn more AMC shares. But what YOU think is important to us. Many yes, many no. AMC does not want to proceed with such a split.’

– Software vendor Kaseya said that between 800 and 1,500 businesses have been compromised by a recent ransomware attack, CNN reported. Kaseya said that roughly 50 of its direct customers were breached in the attack, but hundreds more companies were affected because many of Kaseya’s customers provide IT services to small businesses such as restaurants and accounting firms.

‘Our global teams are working around the clock to get our customers back up and running,’ said Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola in the statement. ‘We understand that every second they are shut down, it impacts their livelihood, which is why we’re working feverishly to get this resolved.’ Kaseya said it had met with US government agencies including the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and that it had engaged with the White House and cyber-security firm FireEye Mandiant.

– The WSJ reported that consulting firm Teneo Holdings named Ursula Burns as its chair. Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, said she would focus on bolstering Teneo’s culture while also continuing to counsel the company’s roster of corporate clients. She has worked as a paid senior adviser at Teneo since 2017 and was previously a client of the company.

Burns became the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company when she was named Xerox’s CEO in 2009 and has often credited it for making diversity a priority for more than half a century.

– According to Reuters, big law firms have been forced to reckon with inequality and lack of diversity in their own ranks, and over the past year many have revamped their management to increase focus on diversity, including by adding a once-rare role in the industry: chief diversity officer. More than a fifth of the 100 highest-grossing US law firms now have a diversity-focused professional with ‘chief’ in his/her job title, a Reuters survey found.

Of the 45 firms that responded to the survey, more than 64 percent said they hired diversity, equity and inclusion professionals in the past year, and 64 percent said they are hiring such professionals this year. But how the chief diversity officer position is defined, and the freedom and resources the executives are given to make change, depends on the firm.

Reuters reported that mutual fund boards would be required to disclose information on the gender and racial diversity of their directors under a rule change recommended to the SEC. The suggestion from an advisory subcommittee to the agency, which would need further approval, goes further than subcommittee members had outlined in the spring and reflects a growing focus from other quarters on the financial industry’s lack of diversity.

At present, there is ‘virtually no representation of women and minorities’ on the boards that set policies across the $29.3 tn US mutual fund industry, said Gilbert Garcia, chair of the subcommittee and managing partner of Houston-based investment firm Garcia Hamilton & Associates. He said the subcommittee does not have a specific set of disclosures in mind, but said in general more data should lead to more diversity.

– The WSJ reported that, according to people familiar with the matter, the Cyberspace Administration of China is taking a lead role in the government’s push to strengthen inter-agency oversight of companies listed overseas, particularly those traded in the US, and to tighten rules for future foreign listings. Behind the agency’s increasing authority is a desire to fix a lack of co-ordination between regulators.

– Ahead of a meeting of G20 finance ministers, a letter from more than 100 economists said the immediate introduction of a financial transactions tax (FTT) would make economies more resilient and generate much-needed public investment, The Guardian reported. Nine members of the G20 already impose FTTs but the economists said all countries should make use of them, with the scope expanded and rates of tax increased.

‘In so doing, additional revenue of the order of $100 bn could be generated on an annual basis, at least 50 percent of which should be devoted to developing countries to support health and education and to strengthen preparedness for future pandemics, with the other 50 percent spent to assist those most in need at home, particularly in the protection and provision of employment,’ the letter says.

– According to CNBC, grocery delivery app Instacart hired the head of Facebook’s app, Fidji Simo, as its new CEO, making her the first outsider to lead the start-up last valued at $39 bn. Simo is among the highest-ranking female executives at Facebook after COO Sheryl Sandberg and chief business officer Marne Levine. Simo will succeed Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta on August 2. Mehta will transition to executive chair of the board. Simo joined Instacart’s board earlier this year as its first female member.

– The WSJ said US President Joe Biden would sign a broad executive order intended to promote competitive markets and limit corporate dominance. The order encourages agencies across the federal government to adopt policies and write regulations that push back against corporate consolidation and business practices that may curb competition, lead to higher prices and mean fewer product choices.

Among the White House’s targets are agriculture, healthcare, shipping, transportation and technology, as well as labor practices that the administration says limit wages and mobility. The executive order further seeks to promote affordable broadband and boost consumers’ rights to repair products they own. The move comes as Democrats have made competition policy and antitrust enforcement a key part of their agenda.