In Q1 and early Q2 2014, SSgA actively engaged with 15 global banks ahead of the proxy voting season. These engagements were conducted jointly with members of SSgA’s investment and governance teams. Our engagement addressed specific governance issues at each bank and also encompassed a wider discussion on the changing regulatory landscape and its impact on business strategy, capital requirements, operations and risk management, and the bank’s global footprint. Below we have provided the perspectives and insights gleaned from our engagement activities with banks this year.
Archive for the ‘Corporate Elections & Voting’ Category
The Comptroller of the City of New York, who oversees pension funds with a combined $160 billion in assets, recently submitted proxy access shareholder proposals at 75 U.S. public companies as part of its Boardroom Accountability Project.  These 75 companies, representing a wide range of industries and market capitalizations, were targeted based on three “priority issues”: climate change, board diversity, and executive compensation.
“Proxy access” proposals seek to provide shareholders with a mechanism for placing their nominees for director in a company’s proxy statement and on its proxy card, thereby avoiding the cost to a shareholder of sending out its own proxy statement. Under a typical proxy access bylaw, shareholders must hold a specified amount of stock in the company (e.g., 3 percent) for a certain period (e.g., 3 years), in addition to meeting other procedural requirements. Proponents of proxy access argue that it provides shareholders with a cost-effective means of running their own candidates for director, providing all shareholders with greater ability to shape the composition of the board.
ISS and Glass Lewis, two influential proxy advisory firms, have both released updates to their policies that govern recommendations for how shareholders should cast their votes on significant ballot items for the 2015 proxy season, including governance, compensation and environmental and social matters.
ISS policy updates are effective for annual meetings after February 1, 2015. We understand that the new Glass Lewis policies are effective for annual meetings after January 1, 2015, but clarifications to existing policies are effective immediately.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) has released a technical document detailing the factors and scoring methodology of Governance QuickScore 3.0, which ISS plans to launch on November 24, 2014.  Corporate issuers may verify, update or correct the data used to calculate their scores, via ISS’s data verification site, through 8:00 p.m. EST on November 14.
Publicly traded companies are required by the SEC and the stock exchanges to obtain shareholder approval when such companies seek to implement a new long‐term equity plan or increase the share reserve pursuant to such plans.
Companies comply with this requirement by seeking shareholder approval through the annual proxy process. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the large proxy advisory firm retained by many institutional investors for proxy voting advice, offers its services to institutional clients by evaluating such proposals. One of the tools used by ISS in developing its voting advice is a financial model referred to as the Shareholder Value Transfer (SVT) Model that attempts to assign a cost to each company’s equity plan. ISS’ proprietary SVT model contains numerous hidden values and algorithms a company cannot readily replicate. If the SVT Model results in an assigned cost that falls outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to ISS, ISS will submit a negative vote recommendation.
A number of U.S. companies have recently received “proxy access” shareholder proposals submitted under SEC Rule 14a-8. Many of the recipients have been targeted under the New York City Comptroller’s new “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project,” which is seeking to install proxy access at 75 U.S. publicly traded companies reflecting diverse industries and market capitalizations. Underlying the Comptroller’s selection of targets is a stated focus on climate change, board diversity and executive compensation.
Shareholder activism continued to thrive in the 2014 proxy season, spurring corporate action as well as renewed engagement between issuers and investors. While the total number of shareholder proposals declined in 2014, lively activity continued with calls for independent chairs as well as burgeoning growth for social issues. And while few in number, change-in-control payout proposals were notably successful for the first time this year, while equity retention proposals continued to have a weak showing. In addition, support for proxy access proposals also grew at a rate greater than any other type of proposal.
Calls for independent board chairs were the most prevalent type of shareholder proposal offered for consideration at U.S. companies’ annual meetings in 2014. As of June 30, 62 of these proposals have come to a shareholder vote, up from 55 resolutions over the same time period in 2013. Notably, the number of proposals calling for independent board chairs has more than doubled over the past five years. Under the current policy formulation, ISS recommended against 32 of these 62 proposals in 2014. In line with results from recent seasons, independent chair proposals received average support of 31.2 percent of votes cast at 2014 meetings. Only four of these proposals received the support of a majority of votes cast.
Yesterday evening, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) announced its third iteration of the Governance QuickScore product, with QuickScore 3.0 scheduled to be launched on November 24, 2014 for the 2015 proxy season. Companies will have from November 3rd until 8pm Eastern time on November 14th to verify the underlying raw data and submit updates and corrections through ISS’s data review and verification site. ISS currently plans to release the new ratings on November 24th for inclusion in proxy research reports issued to institutional shareholders. Ratings should be updated based on companies’ public disclosures during the calendar year.
On October 15, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) released proposed amendments to its proxy voting policies for the 2015 proxy season. ISS is seeking comments by 6:00 p.m. EDT on October 29, 2014.  ISS has stated that it expects to release its final 2015 policies on or around November 7, 2014. The policies as revised will apply to meetings held on or after February 1, 2015.