In our paper, Passive Investors, Not Passive Owners, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether passive institutional investors, like Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors, influence firms’ governance structure. Although passive institutional investors, which seek to deliver the return of a market index with expenses that are as low as possible, reflect a large and growing component of U.S. stock ownership, there is little research on their role in influencing firm behavior.
The lack of research on passive institutional investors likely stems from a presumption that such investors lack both the resources and motives to monitor their large and diverse portfolios. For example, unwilling to accumulate or exit positions, which would lead to deviations from the underlying index weights, passive institutions lack a traditional lever used by non-passive investors to influence managers. Moreover, it is unclear whether passive institutional investors should even care about firm-specific policies or governance choices. Unlike actively-managed funds that attempt to outperform some benchmark, passive funds seek to deliver the performance of the benchmark, and any improvement in one stock’s performance will simply increase the performance of both the institution’s portfolio and the underlying benchmark.