James McRitchie at SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable

Video Friday: SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable

Replay the SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable. (Sorry no YouTube embedded video. You need to click a link.)

Unfortunately, there is a gap about 2/3 of the way through for a fire drill. The second panel does come back but the video runs out while Nell Minow is speaking. As usual, she provides the best quote of the day:

You can lead a shareholder to a lot of dense material, but you can’t make them read it.

Materials From SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable 

My Posts Concerning the SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable

SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable Coverage (more?)

My Contribution to SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable

As I said at the Roundtable the biggest problem for retail shareholders is voter apathy in corporate elections. Nell Minow is right, most retail shareholders aren’t going to read the proxy and we can’t even get them to go to ProxyDemocracy.org to see how others have voted.

So, the project I announced aims to push that data to millions at Yahoo! Finance, Google Finance, the Wall Street Journal, Seeking Alpha and other sites so that investors stumble on that pre-disclosed proxy voting information when they check the price of their stocks.  While there, they glance at the news feeds for any stories that might tell them the likelihood their share price will rise or fall.

Scenario: Joan and Joe shareholder check the price of Apple or Tesla and glance down to the news feed and see that CalPERS has voted. They recognize that CalPERS is a big investor and has probably given a lot of thought to how to vote. “Let’s click and see.” After they see how CalPERS voted and maybe why, they might just decide to cast their own proxy ballot. Even if they don’t, maybe they will the next day when they see how CalSTRS voted or the day after that when another fund pre-discloses.

That’s step one. Use push technology to automatically feed proxy voting information to the news sites that retail investors frequent – sites that are currently news deserts on proxy voting issues. Once the information starts getting used, more funds will pre-disclose their votes because doing so will impact the vote. This could be enormously helped by the SEC requiring that all proxy voting items be XBRL data-tagged so that comparisons between fund votes can be made automatically using data sorts. 

Step two is to provide personalized voting recommendations on all corporate proxies based on the responses of investors to a brief survey of their values. Most institutional investors don’t read through most of the proxies either. They have proxy-voting guidelines, based on their values, and service providers pre-fill proxies for voting based on those voting guidelines. We can send them a proxy voting grid with all known votes of pre-disclosing funds and a column with their own possible votes, based on their survey results.

Using a simple survey and algorithms tied to the votes of pre-disclosing funds, we can do the same for retail shareholders. It certainly won’t be as sophisticated as the proxy voting guidelines developed by large institutional investors but it will make voting very easy and it will better approximate their values than not voting. After using pre-filled recommendations for a while, shareholders might just take more interest in a few proxy topics at a few companies and delve a little deeper.

Take Action: A small group of us are trying to start a low-cost or free newsfeed on pre-disclosed votes. The most difficult problem so far appears to be getting news services interested in receiving such a feed. If you have contacts at Bloomberg, Yahoo! Finance, Google Finance, Reuters, Dow Jones or other sites, please e-mail me contact information. Additional suggestions? Post them to the SEC-IAC (see Submit comments to the Committee). Hurry; they could be making recommendations at their next meeting on April 9.

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