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Executive Risk

IPOs and the Critical Importance of D&O Insurance

When a company becomes publicly traded, its risks increase significantly. D&O liability insurance coverage becomes essential to safeguard directors and officers.

April 22, 2024

Initial public offerings (IPOs) mark a significant milestone for any company as it transitions from private ownership to a publicly traded entity, offering shares to the public for the first time. Alongside the excitement of going public comes a host of new responsibilities and risks, particularly for the directors and officers of the company. This process involves extensive regulatory examination, financial disclosures and increased public scrutiny.

IPOs Increase Risks for Directors and Officers

Congress enacted the Securities Act of 1933 (the “truth in securities” law) to protect shareholders from alleged misrepresentation or failure to disclose in pre-IPO documents and disclosures. To mitigate these risks, companies typically secure directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance, which provides financial protection for the individuals in these roles.

When a company undergoes an IPO and becomes publicly traded, it exposes itself to various risks, including the heightened possibility of facing security class action lawsuits. Security class action lawsuits are legal actions by shareholders alleging violations of securities laws, such as making false or misleading statements in prospectuses, financial reports or other disclosures.

For newly listed IPO companies, the risk of facing such lawsuits is particularly acute due to several factors:

Increased Scrutiny: Following an IPO, newly public companies attract heightened attention from investors, analysts and regulatory bodies. Any discrepancies or inaccuracies in financial disclosures or statements made during the IPO process can lead to allegations of securities fraud, prompting class action lawsuits.

Volatility in Stock Price: IPOs often experience significant fluctuations in stock price in the initial trading period. Shareholders who purchased stock at inflated prices during the IPO may file lawsuits if the stock price subsequently declines, alleging that they were misled by overly optimistic projections or incomplete information provided by the company.

Disclosure Obligations: Publicly traded companies must adhere to stringent disclosure requirements mandated by regulatory bodies like the SEC. Failure to provide accurate and timely disclosures about financial performance, business operations or material developments can invite allegations of securities fraud and trigger class action litigation.

Excessive Promises: In the lead-up to an IPO, companies often engage in extensive marketing and promotional activities to generate investor interest. If the company fails to meet the lofty expectations set by this pre-IPO hype, disappointed investors may initiate class action lawsuits alleging securities fraud or misleading statements.

Underwriter Scrutiny: Underwriters play a crucial role in facilitating the IPO process, conducting due diligence, and underwriting the issuance of shares. If a company experiences significant stock price declines shortly after going public, shareholders may sue the underwriters, alleging they failed to adequately assess and disclose the risks associated with the company’s business prospects.

To mitigate the risk of facing security class action lawsuits, newly listed IPO companies must prioritize transparency, accuracy and compliance with regulatory requirements throughout the IPO process and beyond.

Private Versus Public: How D&O Coverage Differs

Obtaining comprehensive D&O liability insurance coverage is essential to protect executives and board members from personal financial liability arising from allegations of securities fraud or other wrongdoing. Effective risk management practices, including robust internal controls, corporate governance structures and legal oversight, can also help mitigate the potential legal and financial ramifications of security class action litigation for newly public companies.

D&O liability insurance is crucial for private and public companies, but the dynamics and needs significantly differ between the two.

Private Company D&O Liability Insurance

Private company D&O insurance is characterized by the following:

  • Both public and private company D&O insurance forms include Side A, Side B and Side C coverage. But unlike a public company’s D&O form, where the entity coverage under Side C typically only covers securities claims, a private company’s Side C insuring agreement may cover many other types of claims, such as antitrust claims, employment-related claims and claims brought by consumers, subject to potential exclusions.
  • Private companies may face lawsuits or legal actions from various stakeholders, including investors, employees, competitors or regulatory bodies.
  • Coverage typically extends to claims related to mismanagement, breach of fiduciary duty, employment practices violations and other acts or omissions by directors and officers.
  • Premiums for private company D&O insurance are often lower than those for public companies due to the perceived lower risk and smaller pool of potential claimants.

Public Company D&O Liability Insurance

Public company D&O insurance is characterized by the following:

  • Publicly traded companies face heightened exposure to litigation and regulatory scrutiny due to their broader shareholder base and increased visibility.
  • IPOs often trigger a surge in shareholder lawsuits, alleging misleading disclosures, insider trading or other violations of securities laws.
  • The Side C insuring agreement is typically limited to covering only securities claims.
  • D&O insurance for public companies typically requires higher retentions and contains policy limits to address the increased risks associated with being a publicly traded entity.
  • The premiums for public company D&O insurance can be significantly higher due to the elevated risks and potential for larger settlements or judgments.

Learn More

In summary, while both private and public companies benefit from D&O liability insurance, the complexities and risks associated with being a publicly traded entity necessitate more comprehensive coverage for directors and officers. Public company D&O insurance plays a crucial role in protecting individuals and the company against the unique challenges of operating in the public market.

For more information about ways to protect your organizational leaders and company from complex risks, contact a Hylant executive risk advisor.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

Authored by

Ethan Collins

Ethan Collins

Risk Advisor

Ethan structures management liability placements for privately and publicly held companies across diverse industry sectors, including manufacturing, life sciences, technology and others. His expertise spans directors and officers liability, employment practices liability, fiduciary liability and crime coverage.

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