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Despite Strong Say-on-Pay Shareholder Support, Many U.S. Companies Continue To Sharpen Their Focus On Pay For Performance, Towers Watson Survey Finds

Though most U.S. public companies received strong shareholder support for their executive compensation programs during the most recent proxy season, a new survey by global professional services company Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) reveals that almost half of the respondents either have made or will make program changes to strengthen the link between pay and performance in advance of the 2013 proxy season. The study also found that while the vast majority of companies say they pay executives for performance, only about six in 10 have actually conducted a pay-for-performance analysis to demonstrate this linkage.

The Towers Watson survey found that 45% of 253 U.S. companies polled either made or will make changes to their executive pay programs this year to further strengthen the link between pay and performance. Among these respondents, more than half (55%) are introducing or enhancing the emphasis on performance-based equity while 50% are changing the performance measures used to determine incentive payouts. These changes are occurring even though only 2% of respondents failed to gain majority shareholder support in their most recent say-on-pay votes.

“While companies have generally received strong shareholder support during the first two years of say-on-pay voting, most are far from complacent as we head into year number three,” said Andy Goldstein, leader of Towers Watson’s executive compensation consulting practice for the central U.S. “Even companies that received overwhelming shareholder support in 2012 are considering fine-tuning how they pay executives, and we’re seeing the most activity among those receiving less than 90% say-on-pay support. That’s a very high standard.”

According to the survey, the vast majority of companies (90%) state in their proxies that their executive compensation programs pay for performance. However, only 61% have actually conducted a pay-for-performance analysis that compares the company’s relative financial performance with its relative pay positioning. Additionally, only about half of the companies that conducted pay-for-performance analyses decided to disclose the results to shareholders in their public filings. Among those that did, nearly three-fourths (73%) believe their disclosures were effective or very effective in boosting shareholder support for their pay programs.

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