Companies Hold Investors Closer

Companies are engaging in dialogue with their institutional investors more frequently, according to a recent survey, but the two sides have different views on the success of their interactions.

Eighty-seven percent of companies, 70% of asset managers and 62% of asset owners, such as pension funds, say they've had at least one engagement in the past year, according to the survey commissioned by IRRC, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on corporate governance. And 53% of asset owners, 64% of asset managers and 50% of issuers say they are interacting more.

"Engagement levels are high and are increasing," says Mark Goldstein, head of governance research at Institutional Shareholder Services, which conducted the survey of 335 companies and 161 investors for IRRC.

Interactions can take the form of letters and e-mails, phone calls or in-person visits, as well as proxy proposals and vote no campaigns, Goldstein says. Topics range from the companies' financial results and executive compensation to other corporate governance issues and environmental and social issues.

Goldstein says a host of factors are at play in the increased dialogue between investors and companies, including regulatory changes, such as new rules requiring mutual funds to disclose their votes. "If investors are required to disclose how they're going to vote on proxy matters, they're going to want to be sure they're fully informed," he says.

In addition, many institutional investors no longer have the option of ditching stocks they're unhappy with, so "they'll remain invested and engage with the company to change whatever it is they don't like," Goldstein says.

While some disputes between companies and investors garner headlines, most do not according to the survey: 80% of companies said most engagements with investors aren't made public, as did 72% of asset owners and 62% of asset managers.

Companies and investors have very different judgments on the outcome of their interactions. Eighty percent of companies say engagements with investors are always or usually successful; investors were much less enthusiastic, with 60% of asset owners and 54% of asset managers saying their interactions are sometimes successful.

"Issuers are more likely than investors to be satisfied with establishing a dialogue, even if that dialogue is contentious," Goldstein says. "Investors say they want concrete action, either more disclosure or a change in company policy or behavior."

The State of Engagement survey is available

To read about one recent engagement topic, see Shareholders Pressure Companies to Disclose Succession Plans.


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