Does Obfuscating Excessive CEO Pay Work? The Influence of Remuneration Report Readability on Say-on-Pay Votes
Accounting and Business Research 47(6): 695-729, 2017
Posted: 19 Jan 2017 Last revised: 11 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 10, 2017
This paper assesses whether reducing ‘readability’ is an effective obfuscation strategy for influencing the level of shareholder say-on-pay voting dissent in firms with excessive CEO pay. Based on a sample of UK-listed firms, our results indicate that in cases of excessive CEO pay, a less readable remuneration report is associated with reduced say-on-pay voting dissent. However, the effect of the obfuscation strategy diminishes as institutional ownership increases. Using obscurely written remuneration reports may even backfire (i.e. associated with increased voting dissent) when a firm’s majority shares are held by institutional investors. Our results are robust to controlling for compensation contract complexity as well as other alternative explanations. The results are also robust to various controls for endogeneity including a two-stage instrumental variable approach and propensity-score matching. Our findings offer regulatory implications that regulators could minimize the use of ‘obfuscation’ in pay-related disclosures by prescribing how information is to be presented.
Keywords: disclosure; readability; say on pay; shareholder votes
JEL Classification: M20; M40; M41; G30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation