Investment managers should disclose their voting records and be placed under an explicit duty to act in the interests of the asset owner, a British MP has said.
Phil Wilson, elected in 2007 after former prime minister Tony Blair resigned as an MP, argued that asset managers had a “great moral responsibility” to act responsibly and on behalf of a pension fund’s membership.
He argued that managers should therefore be subject to the same fiduciary duty that requires trustees to act in members’ interest.
“I’m not asking people in the City to take a Hippocratic Oath,” Wilson told IPE, but said that managers should be responsible and aware of the impact of their actions.
“If something goes wrong, it’s not just the savers but the whole economy that gets affected,” he said.
Speaking in the House of Commons as he introduced his Investment Management Fiduciary Duties Bill, Wilson argued that, while trustees are bound by their responsibility as fiduciaries, the responsibility should not be lost if the management of assets is “delegated to someone else”.
“We must call on those who manage our funds to do so with our interests ahead of their own,” he said. “At the core of every decision they take should be the saver’s interest because it is our money, not theirs, for which they have responsibility.”
The Labour MP said his Ten-Minute Rule Bill – one of the few means for a non-government MP to introduce legislation – was meant to emphasise the importance of sustainable financial returns to pension funds.
“Those investors should also have regard for the impact of decisions on the financial system, on the real economy, and also take stock of social and environmental considerations, as well as the implications of any investment activity on the beneficiary,” he said.
He said the disclosure of shareholder voting records on issues of pay should be mandatory.
“These votes represent our interest and should not be secret,” he said.
Wilson warned against introducing more regulation, saying instead that a “new compact” – fiduciary duties for asset managers – was required.
Speaking with IPE ahead of the bill’s introduction, he said there was a need for his proposals despite a currently outstanding review of how fiduciary duties apply to companies within the investment chain.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills asked the Law Commission last year to inspect how the duties currently apply, after professor John Kay’s review of the UK equity markets raised concerns.
Its findings are expected later this year.
Wilson’s call for fiduciary duties to be extended to all members of the investment chain echoes previous suggestions by ShareAction, with the MP referencing the group’s efforts.
The lobby group’s chief executive Catherine Howarth welcomed the recognition of its work.
“There is growing political momentum behind ShareAction’s call for a more transparent and accountable investment system,” she said.
“Policymakers are increasingly recognising that, by extending investors’ duties to engage with savers and protect their interests, the law can support long-term, responsible investment.”
Wilson’s bill will receive a second reading in the House of Commons later this month.