At Roundtable, Directors React to Trump Election

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While President-elect Donald Trump worked last week with his transition team from the Trump Tower, directors met just blocks away at the Harvard Club of New York City, to address how in the aftermath of his election boards should begin preparing for what could be sweeping regulatory, tax, and social change.

(Left to right) Robert Klatell, Steven Kreit, and Laurie Shahon

(Left to right) Robert Klatell, Steven Kreit, and Laurie Shahon

Leading the discussion were EisnerAmper’s Chief Risk Officer Peter Bible and Steven Kreit, an audit partner with the firm. While the directors disagreed on the order and priority of policy changes, there was consensus around one point: Uncertainty will rule. Bible and Kreit suggested directors focus on in the near term and shared recommendations directors might take to remain agile in the face of politically driven risks.

How can a director prepare? Boards must engage deeply in strategy in the coming months. Anthony Buonaguro, president of the New Jersey NACD chapter and director of Enclave Homeowners Association, ignited a debate on whether or not boards will develop investment strategies focused on continued investment abroad.

Anthony Buonaguro

Anthony Buonaguro

“It resonated with me that we’re facing several years of uncertainty,” Buonaguro said. “Is this going to make boards more conservative? Usually there are two ways that people handle uncertainty: forge ahead as usual, or freeze. If it’s the latter, it’s not good for the economy or stocks. What are boards supposed to do to revamp strategy?” Kreit answered: “You have to put pen to paper and identify scenarios, then plan for them. Will you hit the scenario that happens? Possibly—or not. But if boards don’t strategize, they’re not going to get anywhere.”

NACD Directorship Publisher Christopher Y. Clark asked participants to suggest calls to action. Shaun Higgins, director of Aryzta AG and Carmine Laboratories, reiterated the importance of establishing strong enterprise risk management (ERM) practices. “I think you go into the board meeting and make strategic planning your number one ERM priority,” Higgins said.

Andrea Bonime-Blanc

Andrea Bonime-Blanc

Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO, founder, and director of GEC Risk Advisory LLC, jumped in: “I think the answer is to know what your top strategic risks are that need to be focused on.” Regarding specific risks, Bonime-Blanc said that when assessing the election’s implications, “We must pick the top five risks to integrate into business planning and factor U.S. geopolitical risk into our own strategic planning in a way that we never have had to before.”

The EisnerAmper hosts shared their near-term advice. “I can’t find a better reason for your companies to have ERM systems and processes in place,” Kreit said, noting that this is not the time for “mail-in” board members.

“I think this is a great time to start thinking about whether the people you have in the boat with you are the people you want to have in the boat with you,” Kreit said.

To see the full list of participants, please click here

What We Know

Kreit addressed what can be readily understood from the election. “There’s talk about what is going to happen, but no one really knows,” he said. “Board members should really be prepared for anything. Start thinking about some of the concepts Trump has been talking about, what some of his main areas of focus have been.” Work with management to address how the following, possible policy changes might impact business:

  • Anticipate inflation and its impact on cash flow and management, equity valuations, and borrowing abilities. While an initial jump in equity markets was seen, according to Bible, “the debt market got $1 trillion knocked out of it,” a sign of anticipation of inflation. Companies should begin scenario-planning for changes in borrowing ability.
  • Expect early review of tax policy. The dominance of the Republican party across Congress and the executive branch indicate the probability of perhaps even speedy tax reform.
  • Repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Some changes will come to the policy, and companies should be prepared to address its impact on their workforce.
  • De-regulation and repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act. Bible and Kreit anticipate the repeal of at least some Dodd-Frank provisions, and, at a minimum, a review of leadership at the Consumer Financial Protection Board.
  • Changes are coming to trade. One of the major planks in the Trump platform was a general desire to repeal trade agreements and impose tariffs on China and Mexico, as well as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bible and Kreit underscored the fact that one of the American executive branch’s unilateral powers is to control foreign commerce, which could lead to trade wars “that could trigger a recession,” Bible cautioned.

Kreit also outlined the timeline of key power changes in the White House and Congress:

  • December 19, 2016: The Electoral College convenes to vote.
  • January 3, 2017: The 115th United States Congress convenes.
  • January 6, 2017: Congress declares the president-elect.
  • January 20, 2017: Presidential inauguration marks the beginning of the Trump administration.
  • March-September 2017: Congress anticipated to debate raising the debt ceiling.
  • September 30, 2017: The U.S. government’s fiscal year ends, opening the door for Congress to address budgetary and fiscal matters.

These dates could serve as important milestones for developments impacting their companies.

“Back when we were determining a topic for this discussion, one thing I think we could all agree on was that this election could change the course of the country—and, potentially, the world,” Bible said in summation. “I felt very strongly that we should have this type of dialogue for one reason, and that’s because board leadership is essential for success. It’s a brave new world.”

A second post reporting from this roundtable addresses longer-term concerns raised by directors. To continue reading, click here

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