In remarks before the National Press Club, the CEO of Broadridge, the nation’s largest shareholder communications company, called on all CEOs to encourage individual shareholders, including employee shareholders, to vote their proxies.
In 2010, just one in 20 individual retail investors voiced their opinions about the companies they invested in by exercising their fundamental shareholder right. That compares to recent historical levels four to five times as high. Public companies need to understand the seriousness of this issue and act to reverse this troubling decline to get each of their individual investors — and all individual investors generally — engaged with their companies.
Richard J. Daly went on to explain that as an initial step in an overall strategy to increase individual shareholder voting, he is calling on CEOs of American businesses to
join with us in launching a nationwide effort to encourage their employees — numbering in the tens of millions — to exercise a fundamental shareholder right — and need — to vote their proxy ballots, whether it be proxies relating to their employer or proxies relating to other companies in which they invest
As part of the effort, he is contacting the chief executives of America’s top 1,000 public companies to encourage them to motivate their employee shareholders to vote their shares. Broadridge will inform shareholders —- within the constraints of regulatory boundaries —- that they have the ability to take action online, eliminate the paper, have all information stored in any format they want, have access to it anywhere they want and vote at any time they want, even on such new devices as Android™ phones and the iPad®.
A relatively small increase in voting participation by employees could meaningfully increase individual investor voting participation from 5% per year to 20% or more per year. Companies that can distinguish their investors’ opinions from others’ will more easily have the strength and confidence to stay on course and create value. There is no greater show of support than the ballot, or in this case, the proxy.
While I certainly agree with Daly that steps need to be taken to ensure more retail shareowners vote, I didn’t like the thrust of his remarks, which appeared to assume that more retail votes would mean more votes for management… or am I reading too much in when he says:
Better to hear from actual owners — whose interests are likely aligned with the company — than from outsiders whose agendas may be in conflict with shareholders’ long-term interests.
Additionally, it would have been nice if he would have emphasized the usefulness of sites that help inform shareowners on the issues.
- Mutual funds & proxy voting: Proxy Democracy.
- ESG issues: Social Investment Forum.
- Vote proxies: MoxyVote.com.
- Rate information providers: VoterMedia.org.
- Network & Lobby: Shareowners.org & US Proxy Exchange (USPX).
- Keep up on the latest issues: CorpGov.net.
If it is a public relations move that Daly is after, he might recommend that companies take a page from Prudential Financial. They’re rewarding their voting shareowners with totebags or by planting a tree. Last year, the company got an additional 68,000 shareowners to vote, mailed 120,000 bags and planted more than 112,000 trees.
This year, Prudential added information in its proxy materials on sustainability, corporate citizenship and shareowner engagement. Shareowners who cast their proxies online can view the directors’ bios and the supporting statements for shareowner proposals. More importantly, Prudential’s board supported a shareowner proposal from John Chevedden to eliminate the company’s supermajority voting provision.