As securities lawyers know, disclosure is generally regarded as the best disinfectant.  However, in a recent enforcement action, the SEC determined that disclosure is not always enough.  Specifically, when it comes to internal controls over financial reporting, or ICFR, companies need to actually fix the problems they disclose.

In the action, the SEC cited four companies for failing to maintain ICFR for periods ranging from seven to 10 consecutive annual reporting periods.  While each of the companies disclosed material weaknesses in ICFR, it took them months or years to remediate the weaknesses – even after being contacted by the SEC!  (I don’t usually use exclamation points in my postings, but this calls for an exception to my usual policy.)  As noted in the SEC’s press release on the action, “[c]ompanies cannot hide behind disclosures as a way to meet their ICFR obligations. Disclosure of material weaknesses is not enough without meaningful remediation.”

Others have noted that the cases in question are outliers.  That’s undoubtedly true — at least I hope so, because it’s hard to imagine hearing from the SEC and doing nothing about it, much less over a period of years).  However, the moral of the story remains unchanged: if you’re going to disclose an ICFR problem, you better fix it, too.

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Photo of Robert B. Lamm Robert B. Lamm

Bob Lamm chairs Gunster’s Securities and Corporate Governance Practice Group.  He has held senior legal positions at several major companies – most recently Pfizer, where he was assistant general counsel and assistant secretary; has served as Chair of the Securities Law Committee and in other leadership positions with the Society for Corporate Governance; and is a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board Center for Corporate Governance.  Bob writes and speaks extensively on securities law and governance matters and has received several honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in Corporate Governance from Corporate Secretary magazine.