CEO Compensation Incentives and Playing It Safe: Evidence from FAS 123R

Nicholas F. Carline, Oksana Pryshchepa, and Bo Wang

This paper uses FAS 123R regulation to examine how reduction in CEO compensation incentives affects managerial `playing-it-safe’ behavior. Using proxies reflecting deliberate managerial efforts to change firm risk, difference-in-difference tests show that affected firms drastically reduce both systematic and idiosyncratic risks, leading to an 8% decline in total firm risk. These reductions in risk are achieved by shifting to safer, but low-Q, segments while closing the riskier ones, without significant changes in investment levels. Our findings suggest that decrease in risk-taking incentives provided by option compensation, when not compensated for by alternative incentives or governance mechanisms, exacerbates risk-related agency problem.