On the heels of SEC Chair White’s direction to the Division of Corporation Finance to review its position on proxy proposal conflicts under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have issued clarifying policies on proxy access, entering the fray of what is becoming the hottest debate this proxy season. The publication of ISS’s updated policy in particular means that market forces may have outpaced the SEC’s review process. In order to avoid risking a withhold or no-vote recommendation from ISS against their directors, many companies will be faced with the choice of (i) including any shareholder-submitted proxy access proposal in their proxy materials (either alone or alongside a management proposal) (ii) excluding the shareholder submitted proposal on the basis of a court ruling or no-action relief from the Division of Corporation Finance on a basis other than Rule 14a-8(i)(9) (conflict with management proposal) or (iii) obtaining withdrawal of the proposal by the shareholder proponent.
Posts Tagged ‘Proxy voting’
ISS is providing answers to frequently asked questions with regard to select policies and topics of interest for 2015:
Proxy Access Proposals
1. How will ISS recommend on proxy access proposals?
Drawing on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decades-long effort to draft a market-wide rule allowing investors to place director nominees on corporate ballots, and reflecting feedback from a broad range of institutional investors and their portfolio companies, ISS is updating its policy on proxy access to generally align with the SEC’s formulation.
Old Recommendation: ISS supports proxy access as an important shareholder right, one that is complementary to other best-practice corporate governance features. However, in the absence of a uniform standard, proposals to enact proxy access may vary widely; as such, ISS is not setting forth specific parameters at this time and will take a case-by-case approach when evaluating these proposals.
Vote case-by-case on proposals to enact proxy access, taking into account, among other factors:
Today’s [February 19, 2015] Roundtable on Proxy Voting is certainly timely since over the course of the next several months, thousands of America’s public companies will hold annual shareholders meetings to elect directors and to vote on many important corporate governance issues. The start of the annual “proxy season” is an appropriate time to consider the annual process by which companies communicate with their shareholders and get their input on a variety of issues. Whether it’s voting on directors, executive compensation matters, or other significant matters, the annual meeting is the principal opportunity for shareholders—the true owners of public companies—to have their voices heard by the corporate managers of their investments. At these annual meetings, shareholders can express their support, or disappointment, with the direction of their companies through the exercise of their right to vote.
1. How does the new approach differ from the previous approach?
Under the previous approach, ISS generally recommended for independent chair shareholder proposals unless the company satisfied all the criteria listed in the policy. Under the new approach, any single factor that may have previously resulted in a “For” or “Against” recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively. Thus, a holistic review of all of the factors related to company’s board leadership structure, governance practices, and performance will be conducted under the new approach.
For example, under ISS’ previous approach, if the lead director of the company did not meet each one of the duties listed under the policy, ISS would have recommended For, regardless of the company’s board independence, performance, or otherwise good governance practices.
Under the new approach, in the example listed above, the company’s performance and other governance factors could mitigate concerns about the less-than-robust lead director role. Conversely, a robust lead director role may not mitigate concerns raised by other factors.
ISS recently issued updated guidelines for several of its benchmark global voting policies, which will be effective for analyses of publicly traded companies with shareholder meetings on or after Feb. 1, 2015. For the 10th year running, ISS gathered broad input from institutional investors, corporate issuers, and other market constituents worldwide as a key part of its policy development process. The 2015 updates reflect the time and effort of hundreds of investors, issuers, corporate directors, and other market participants who provided input through a variety of channels, including ISS’ annual policy survey, topical and regional roundtables, and direct engagements with staff.
In our paper, The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting in Staggered and Non-Staggered Boards: The Case of Audit Committee Elections, which was recently made available on SSRN, we study the efficacy of audit committee member elections in staggered and non-staggered boards.
Voting in director elections and auditor ratifications is a primary mechanism shareholders can use to voice their opinion. Past research shows that shareholders cast votes against directors that exhibit poor performance, and these votes, in turn, are associated with subsequent board reaction. However, because a significant number of U.S. public companies have staggered boards, not all directors are up for election every year. Therefore, the efficacy of shareholder votes may not be uniform. Under the staggered board voting regime, shareholders and proxy advising firms can typically voice their opinion on any given director only once every three years. This election structure may increase the likelihood that directors who are not up for election following poor performance will be insulated from the scrutiny of shareholders and proxy advisors. In turn, this may influence the accountability of staggered directors and the overall efficacy of shareholder votes.
As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs  can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have both released updates to their respective proxy voting guidelines.  ISS’s revised policies will take effect for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015. Glass Lewis’s new policies will take effect for meetings occurring after January 1, 2015, while its clarifications of existing policies are effective immediately.
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.
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.