Press Release: IPFI Reacts to the Proxy Voting Roundtable

November 16, 2018

Press Release: IPFI Reacts to the Proxy Voting Roundtable

IPFI continues to call for the registration of proxy advisory firms with the SEC to ensure greater transparency.

Washington, DC – The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity (IPFI) attended yesterday’s roundtable hosted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). While reform is needed across the proxy voting process, IPFI’s primary attention was on the third panel, “Proxy Advisory Firms: The Current and Future Landscape.” Proxy advisory firms play an important role in advising institutional investors, including pension funds, on shareholder proposals. However, there is a demonstrated need for greater transparency in this process.

As IPFI outlines in our public comments to the SEC, the current proxy advisory system negatively impacts public pensions for two primary reasons:

  • Public pensions are large institutional investors, meaning that they serve as a powerful voice in corporate decision-making through their position as proxies for shareholders (retirees)
  • There has been a demonstrated increase in the politicization of shareholder votes, including by public pension fund managers defying their fiduciary responsibility.

The advisory system as it currently stands is open to conflicts of interests, as was much discussed during the panel. IPFI is calling on the SEC to require proxy advisors to adhere to their fiduciary responsibility and to register with the SEC, so that retirees can have a more transparent understanding of the proposals their fund managers are voting on. This will help reduce the politicization of shareholder proposals, which range the gamut from divestment, to corporate governance, to payscale proposals.

Reforming the proxy voting process would put more power into the hands of the actual pensioners, increase transparency, and help ensure that proxy advisors and pension fund managers fulfill their true fiduciary responsibility—the highest return at a reasonable risk.

Christopher Burnham, IPFI President and former Connecticut State Treasurer commented on today’s roundtable saying, “I think some of the most important words said at the panel were that we have to make sure that fiduciaries focus on enhancing shareholder value. That is the very essence of fiduciary duty.” He continued, “I agree that there should be no safe harbor from fiduciary duties, and that fiduciaries at all levels have the  same level of responsibility to the beneficiary as the day to day money manager. We also need to have the fullest and most unfettered transparency because it is essential to that duty.”

The roundtable that the SEC hosted today is an important first step in illuminating the proxy voting process. Furthermore, it’s a necessary step towards ensuring that the shareholder proposals that are put forth are in the best interest of the actual shareholders – in many cases, retirees who have dedicated their lives to supporting state and local governments.