Data analytics giant Comscore and its former CEO have agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle allegations that they engaged in a $50 million accounting fraud scheme in order to beat Wall Street revenue estimates.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Serge Matta, who served as chief executive from March 2014 until August 2016, improperly recognized revenue from non-monetary transactions (NMTs) and other contracts, enabling Comscore to artificially exceed analysts’ consensus revenue targets for seven consecutive quarters.
Without the revenue recognized from the NMTs, the SEC said in an administrative order, the company would have missed estimates from the fourth quarter of 2013 through the second quarter of 2015 and would have had much larger revenue shortfalls in the third and fourth quarters of 2015.
Matta also allegedly made false and misleading statements about two important performance metrics — customer count total and “validated campaign essentials” — to “create the illusion of smooth and steady growth in Comscore’s business.”
As part of the settlement, Comscore and Matta will pay penalties of $5 million and $700,000, respectively.
“Comscore and its former CEO manipulated the accounting for non-monetary and other transactions in an effort to chase revenue targets and deceive investors about the performance of Comscore’s business,” Melissa R. Hodgman, associate director in the SEC’s Enforcement Division, said in a news release.
According to the SEC, Matta negotiated five NMTs between December 2013 and September 2015 in which Comscore agreed to exchange sets of data with a counterparty for no cash consideration.
Generally accepted accounting principles allow revenue recognition for such transactions as long as, among other things, the fair value of the assets subject to the exchange is determinable within reasonable limits.
But Comscore’s NMTs allegedly often involved data exchanges where the contracts provided for it to deliver substantially more data than counterparties wanted or intended to use. As a result, revenue from the transactions was overstated by more than $34.5 million.
The SEC noted that incentive compensation plans for certain Comscore executives including Matta were tied to hitting revenue and adjusted EBITDA targets.