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Pension funds must hold asset managers to account over stewardship – Aviva Investors

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Asset managers should be held to account by pension funds over their stewardship issues at annual stewardship meetings, according to the chief responsible investment officer of Aviva Investors.

Steve Waygood said there was a need to “shine a light” on the stewardship efforts of the investment management industry, and that the industry needed to be significantly more public in its disclosures on the issue.

Speaking at a National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) event on stewardship, Waygood said that, unlike a code for companies on corporate governance – which saw the matters discussed at AGMs and followed up by the capital markets – the Stewardship Code had no mechanism for holding asset managers to account.

He pointed out that both Aviva Investors and Aviva published stewardship reports, but he questioned who was monitoring the data published.

“How do our clients get to hold us to account for the content?” he asked. “Where is the equivalent to the AGM?”

Waygood went on to recommend that an organisation, such as the NAPF, convene a stewardship AGM as a market-based mechanism for accountability, with one trustee from each of the group’s member pension funds present.

He said trustees would be required to “come and vote on a series of presentations from the very biggest fund managers”.

“The clients that were in the room would sequentially be able to vote on each of the chief executives of the asset managers’ presentations on the quality and breadth and depth of stewardship,” he said.

“We need to shine a light on the stewardship of the investment management industry by being much more public to the end owners.”

He said the debate surrounding stewardship had all too often has been “an ivory tower between the investment managers, corporate governance experts and fund managers”.

Chris Hitchen, chief executive of RPMI, supported the call for pension investors to ensure asset managers were “doing the best job they can on our behalf”.

However, Hitchen also said diversification of pension assets had been “overdone” in the last decade, meaning that fewer, larger stakes could be more easily monitored by pension funds.

“Our goals aren’t really to match or beat indices,” he said, “they should for a long-term real return.

“In that guise, holding fewer, larger investments and then having more deep relationships with the boards of our investee companies makes perfect sense.

“We need to be committed owners.”

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