Ethical Challenges and Agency Issues
In the history of modern economies, from the late 1800s to today businesses have faced ethical challenges regarding compensation for executives and its relation to job performance. In response to major economic crises during the 20th century, the United States enacted broad-based legislation measures as attempts to prevent what were seen as ethical challenges and agency conflicts surrounding both performance management and executive compensation. To understand the current issues facing businesses and regulators, it is important to look at three of most significant legislative acts Congress has passed. The Securities Exchange Acts of 1933 and 1934, as well as the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 represent legislative interventions regarding corporate financial accounting toward the goal of curtailing the ethical challenges and the conflict of agency problems that can arise from performance management and executive compensation. Yet even after these laws were enacted, ethical conflicts can and still do arise when it comes to the compensation for employers and executives. Securities Act of 1933
The Securities Act of 1933 was born in response to the stock market crash of 1929. Just as it was then, companies who issue securities to raise money for funding new investments or to expand operations have an inherent incentive to present their company and its plans in the rosiest light possible to investors (Sarkar, 2013). The Securities Act of 1933 serves the dual purpose of ensuring that issuers of securities to the public disclose material information to investors as well as ensuring that any securities transactions are not based on fraudulent information or practices (Sarkar, 2013). The Securities Act of 1933 affects public disclosures through a mandatory registration process for sellers and brokers and applies to the sale or trade of any regulated security type (Sarkar, 2013). Securities Act of 1934 (a.k.a. the Exchange Act)
The Exchange Act primarily regulates transactions of securities that take place after its initial offering by a company (Sarkar, 2013). These transactions often take place between parties other than the issuer, such as through trades that retail investors execute via brokerage firms (Sarkar, 2013). The biggest effect of The Exchange Act was the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a federal agency responsible for regulating the securities markets (Sarkar, 2013). Since 1934, the SEC has taken on the role of mitigating fraud, abuse, and other ethical issues in the financial reporting of publicly traded entities. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
The Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002 was the most significant legislation passed since the 1930s and came in the aftermath of the corporate scandals at companies such as Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen (Amadeo, 2013). Sarbanes-Oxley created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a new organization whose purpose is to help oversee the accounting industry (Amadeo, 2013). To prevent the sort of conflicts of interest that had led to the Enron fraud, SOX established new prohibitions for auditors when engaging in consultation work for their auditing clients. It also banned company loans to executives and gave increased job protections to whistleblowers (Amadeo, 2013). Performance Management and Executive Compensation
Even after the passing of the Securities and Exchanges Acts of 1933 and 1934 and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, there are reasons to be concerned about ethical violations in financial accounting. Two areas where there still exist possibilities for unethical activity which could harm the supply of reliable information to investors are the performance management within a company and the compensation packages of executives. Current Ethical Challenges
When evaluating situations to support ethical decision-making,...