Updated on April 3, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Clawback Meaning

Clawback is a clause in an employment agreement or other financial contracts whereby beneficiaries are subject to repay the incentives they received from time to time given the requirements of the benefactor. It acts as a penalty for one party under circumstances where it fails to either live up to the expectations of the other party or is liable to cover up for the occurring losses.


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clawback policy is applicable in numerous areas, including private equityPrivate EquityPrivate equity (PE) refers to a financing approach where companies acquire funds from firms or accredited investors instead of stock marketsread more, dividendDividendDividends refer to the portion of business earnings paid to the shareholders as gratitude for investing in the company’s more, contract, insurance, etc. It is offered mostly due to scandals, misconduct, poor performance, etc., diminishing company profits, or hampering company goodwill.

Key Takeaways

  • A clawback provision is a non-negotiable contractual clause that lets benefactors reclaim the amount already paid to beneficiaries given specific circumstances.
  • Such policy finds significance in different areas, such as insurance, dividend contract, employee agreement, pension, Medicaid scheme, etc.
  • The first law that introduced this clause was the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, followed by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.
  • As a penalty imposed on employees or financial beneficiaries, the clawbacks prevent them from participating in any fraudulent activity or misconduct.

Understanding Clawback Provision

A clawback provision is a non-negotiable clause of any financial or employment contract. It acts to be a penalty rather than a refund or repayment. A clawback agreement tends to keep beneficiaries alert, ensuring they do not involve in misconduct or exaggeratedly present their achievements.

Such exaggeration of achievement lets them enjoy incentives. But it would be more likely to come to notice, later on, triggering the clawback clause. For example, a team accomplishes a project under a team leader’s supervision and makes a profit 10% more than expected. As a result, the leader is offered a significant incentive in return for the efforts made.

At the time of tallying employee performance against the tasks assigned to different members for the project, the management observes that the efforts put in by the team members were in no way less, be it for preparing the plan or executing the same. As a result, a part of the team leader’s bonus was asked to be paid back to the company. The same bonus amount was distributed to the rest of the members who worked on the project.

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A clawback agreement finds relevance in different niches, be it the financial sectorFinancial SectorThe financial sector refers to businesses, firms, banks, and institutions providing financial services and supporting the economy. It encompasses several industries, including banking and investment, consumer finance, mortgage, money markets, real estate, insurance, retail, more or service sectorService SectorThe service sector or tertiary sector refers to one of the portions forming the three-sector model of the economic sector. The businesses in the service industry produce intangible goods in the form of service as output delivering to other businesses or more. A few application areas where such clauses are seriously in action include:

Clawback in private equity

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  • clawback in private equity gives limited partners’ the right to reclaim the interest that general partners carry if they receive extra compensation for the losses borne.
  • In the life insurance sector, the clause helps providers ask service seekers to return the amount in case of policy cancellation in the middle of the term.
  • If dividends are received, they may be clawed back under specific circumstances, such as selling the shares within the lock-in period, complete bankruptcyBankruptcyBankruptcy refers to the legal procedure of declaring an individual or a business as more, etc.
  • Clawbacks are common in pension contracts under situations indicating frauds or other misconducts.
  • These provisions come into the scene for government contracts if contractors fail to meet certain requirements or quality standards.
  • In executive pay agreements, clawing back may require executives to reimburse/repay specific amounts to the organization if they breach the terms of an employment agreement and join another competitor within a particular time frame after leaving the company.
  • When it comes to the Medicaid scenario, the clawback policy helps recover the money that the entity pays for the medical needs of a person who has died. It is because the deceased would need no other healthcare facilities.

Clawback Examples

Let us look at the following clawback examples to understand the concept better:

Example #1

Earlier in 2014, Yahoo issued a disclosure stating that hackers stole data on 500 million users. Again, in December 2016, Yahoo announced that data theft might have affected more than a billion accounts. With the shareholdersShareholdersA shareholder is an individual or an institution that owns one or more shares of stock in a public or a private corporation and, therefore, are the legal owners of the company. The ownership percentage depends on the number of shares they hold against the company's total more losing over $350 million due to these breaches, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) examined whether Yahoo employees hid data breaches from their customers and shareholders.

Yahoo did have a clawback provision, covering CEO Marissa Mayer’s pay in it. However, the company implemented the policy only in reporting incorrect financials, basically only in case of accounting fraud. So, it implied that the clause doesn’t cover these hack incidents, and Marissa Mayer might come out safe.

Example #2

In September 2016, Wells Fargo paid a fine worth $185 million for engaging in fraud over the years. It included opening credit cards without a customer’s consent, creating fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services, and forcing customers to accumulate late fees on accounts they never even knew they had. In addition, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees in relation to the scam.

Clawback policy

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Wells Fargo announced a clawing back compensation of $41 million from their Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John G. Stumpf.

Clawback Rules

The first law that drove the federal clawback clause was the Sarbanes-Oxley ActSarbanes-Oxley ActThe Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Sox) of 2002 was enacted by the US Federal Law for increased corporate governance, strengthening the financial and capital markets at its core and boost the confidence of general users of financial reporting information and protect investors from scandals like that of Enron, WorldCom, and more of 2002. It introduced the provision to reclaim bonuses and other incentives or rewards paid to an employee or beneficiary. The rule stated that staff misconduct, a discrepancy in accounting records, etc., would result in penalties. Per this, the beneficiary would have to pay back the bonuses or rewards.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was the next law. It made clawing back significant in cases where business reporting goes wrong, whether done intentionally or unintentionally. This law, however, remains confined to the firms that receive the benefits under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

The provision of clawing back became necessary for the renowned US banks following the 2008 Financial crisisFinancial CrisisThe term "financial crisis" refers to a situation in which the market's key financial assets experience a sharp decline in market value over a relatively short period of time, or when leading businesses are unable to pay their enormous debt, or when financing institutions face a liquidity crunch and are unable to return money to depositors, all of which cause panic in the capital markets and among more. It was to ensure accountability among executives.

The UK introduced laws, making banks recover bonuses from bankers that acted irresponsibly for 10 years since their disbursal.

The Standard Chartered Bank came up with the law to reclaim bonuses from approximately 150 senior personnel who breached clawback rules. The process also included those who left the bank but were liable for financial and legal actions.

The rules differ as per the bank requirements. However, they permit the banks to reclaim rewards and bonuses against misconduct, unreasonable risks, or poor performance.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What does clawback mean?

Clawbacks are provisions that allow benefactors, like employers, lenders, insurance, and equity providers, to reclaim the paid-out amount under certain conditions. Such clauses become active in response to misconducts, poor performance, or activities that might affect the financial position or goodwill of the entities in one or the other way.

When did OAS clawback start?

The Old Age Security (OAS) clawback in Canada was introduced in 1989. The provision allows OAS pension recovery if the net annual income goes beyond a threshold amount as fixed for a year. For example, the OAS threshold is $79,054 between July 2021 and June 2022.

Are clawbacks effective?

Yes, clawbacks tend to be effective as they prevent the beneficiaries from taking advantage of the financial or reward benefits received from different benefactors, having the right to ask for reclaims when necessary.

This has been a guide to the Clawback clause and the rules that guide it. Here we discuss how and where clawback policy works along with some practical examples. You may learn more about Private Equity from the following articles –

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