In a recent article in the Sunday Times British entrepreneur, Paul Johnson criticised the voting recommendations made by proxy voting advisers – including the recent advice that he be removed from the board of Aim-listed hotel chain, Elegant. But Micheal Deakin, Manifest chairman has highlighted that the UK has set a better example of shareholder voting research.
Johnson said there was a US-led duopoly in proxy voting services even though US public companies frequently had what would in the UK be considered poor governance structures. He highlighted that “they frequently have a combined chief executive and chairman; they often have finance directors who are not qualified accountants; and they typically meet only six times a year, or even less. Moreover, many US listed companies have poison pills and non-voting shares, which are almost unheard of in the UK.”
Deakin responded to the article in a letter also published by the Sunday Times. He stated that Johnson was right to point out that a US duopoly providing governance research and advice is unhealthy. However, Deakin pointed out that Manifest, the UK’s home-grown shareholder voting service, takes a fundamentally different approach. “We believe that our role is to help asset managers and owners to monitor, understand and engage with companies”
Manifest, he said, researches companies on behalf of our clients and provides the tools for them to make their own — informed — judgements. We do not make recommendations or tell investors what to do, but will flag up potential issues according to their individual policy concerns.
Meanwhile, corporate governance pioneer and vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, Nell Minnow, has written an article arguing that despite the arguments by Republican politicians in the US there was no case for regulation of proxy advisers. She said that institutional investors in the world made a free market decision to pay for outside, objective analysis, no different from other securities analysis reports they may purchase, to help them better understand their holdings and better meet their obligation as fiduciaries for the people whose money they are investing to respond to corporate initiatives appropriately.
Politicians argue that proxy advisers may be conflicted and the research can be poor but Minnow suggested this was still no reason for interference, as the buyers of the products can make the decision about how good research is or if they believe the proxy firm is conflicted.Last Updated: 5 March 2018