Friday, March 7, 2014

SEC Comment Letter Watch -- Segment Reporting

Segment reporting is one of the SEC's most common areas of comment. The SEC often asks for specifics of documents that the Chief Operating Decision Maker (CODM) reviews on a regular basis. Companies need to be cautious when answering similar questions since the next request from the SEC might be "please provide us with all regular reports that the CODM review on a regular basis." If the SEC sees something different in those CODM reports from the answer provided previously, that spells trouble. Here is a sample from a letter to Charter Communications:

SEC's question:
We note your response to comment 4. Please provide us additional information about all of the “certain operating metrics”, such as “CPE” and plant maintenance, that management, in particular the CODM, relies on to assess performance and allocate resources.

Describe for us what these non-financial business and operational data represent, at what level of detail does the CODM review them (e.g.KMA or lower), and how the CODM uses them to assess performance and allocate resources.

Company's answer:
Our CEO, as CODM, receives and reviews information at the consolidated level, whether financial or non-financial in nature, and uses that information to assess performance and allocate resources on a consolidated basis. The CEO routinely receives consolidated operating metrics that include customers by product (video, Internet, and phone), sales and disconnects by product, customer net gains, penetration of estimated passings, bundled customer statistics, sales channel performance, call center and truck roll statistics and headcount. In addition, the CEO receives certain statistics related to the quality of physical transactions occurring at a local level, specifically truck roll data and ratios which use the number of customer connections, disconnections and average customers by service to calculate service level ratios. These statistics assist with the review of activity in the field at the local level, but are not the primary data used for resource allocation. Our CEO makes resource allocation decisions to specific operating strategies that impact the performance of the consolidated company. Furthermore, he assesses the performance of the Company on a consolidated level as a result of the implementation of the company-wide operating strategies. The execution of those strategies is carried out by levels below the CODM.

Resources allocated to our strategic initiatives of enhancing the customer experience and increasing customer growth are driven on a consolidated basis by our CODM. One such example would be CPE procurement, which is budgeted based on a certain number of connects and devices per connect, both estimated for the entire company. Consequently, CPE is purchased on a company-wide basis in order to maximize scalability during negotiations with our vendors and to meet estimated connects on a company-wide basis. Plant maintenance is another example. The allocation of corporate resources to plant maintenance is based on the strategy to improve the performance and reliability of the network. Levels below the CODM are then tasked with execution of the strategy and ensuring resources are provided where they are needed. A third example is our strategy of our all-digital network roll-out. Again, the amount of resources required for the all-digital roll-out is based upon an allocation of resources to implement the roll-out company-wide. In executing the all-digital roll-out, managers below the CODM carry out the initiative within our footprint based upon the potential immediate impact on our customers. Other overall resource allocation examples include, but are not limited to, implementation of a back office system to support customer growth or a decision to change the type of modem used, both of which would be on a company-wide basis.

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