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Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) can be effective financing and risk management vehicles if used properly A parent company s debt level or other risk factors can hinder the capability of a strong business segment in obtaining favorable interest rates to finance its operations In such a situation, the parent can create an SPE and transfer the asset to it with the goal of receiving more favorable lending rates As long as there is another independent third-party investor that has contributed at least three percent of the assets, the SPE does not have to be consolidated into the parent for financial reporting purposes11 Furthermore, if the assets in the SPE are of high quality, banks will lend to the entity at lower lending rates than could be received by the originating company The SPE will then use this money to pay the parent for the asset received The bottom line is that the company obtains the money it requires, but pays less to obtain it than would otherwise be the case In 1997, Enron s CFO began creating SPEs to hold assets and provide the appearance of creating legitimate financing transactions However, Enron ran out of quality assets to transfer, so inferior assets were reassigned and Enron stock pledged as a guarantee of payment to the banks And who did Enron find to be that threepercent investor in the SPEs The CFO, through a partnership called LJM, among others12 But why would he want to invest in poor quality assets Because the fees Enron paid LJM for managing the transaction eliminated his risk in these vehicles He effectively cashed out; so while he was an investor on paper, he really had no downside risk13 Enron s Board contained a former accounting professor, the former executives of an insurance company and a bank, the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and a hedge fund manager14 Enron s financial transactions were confusing even to these highly knowledgeable individuals What was clear is that the Board did waive their conflict of interest rules to allow these transactions to take place The Board s responsibility to understand these transactions is paramount where related parties are involved They must make sure the transactions are in the best interests of the company and continue to monitor the conflict to ascertain that it continues to benefit shareholders In conclusion, a strong oversight program helps focus the board s time With such a program in place, the board can bore in on any risk
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gaps identified, metrics flashing red, or exception reports, as they arise Risk mitigation activities deemed critical by the board, such as those covering financial reporting, can be subjected to more intense oversight by standing committees Strong director oversight includes monitoring the organization from many different perspectives A mix of risk analysis and event reporting, monitoring of business drivers, and ensuring management s compliance with ethical standards enable a director to demonstrate strong oversight processes and help protect the company Effective compliance programs should also help lessen the likelihood that a criminal proceeding or a SEC civil enforcement action is initiated against the company
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Add key performance indicators to your arsenal KPIs are an important supervisory tool that directors can use to identify those areas that will benefit most from their time Establish benchmarks for KPIs Benchmarking using sources external to the company is a best practice that can provide perspective and depth to metric reporting Ensure that individuals or groups are assigned specific risks and have responsibility to monitor and report on threat levels Restrict executive and director trading in company stock to predefined periods, such as the first week after the release of quarterly and annual financial statements Regularly discuss executive use of benefit programs with the Head of Human Resources and have this information corroborated through periodic internal audits Avoid related-party agreements If there are such agreements, make certain that they are closely monitored and information is corroborated by someone independent of the agreement
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