UK fund manager body warns corporate governance ‘repeat offenders’
The UK trade body for asset managers has warned more than 30 of the UK’s public companies – including three asset managers – about ignoring shareholder concerns.
In a letter to 32 companies of all sizes listed on the London Stock Exchange, the Investment Association (IA) said it had noted these firms had been taken to task by shareholders two years running for the same issue, indicating they had failed to tackle it effectively.
Andrew Ninian, director of stewardship and corporate governance at the IA, said: “While many companies are taking the necessary action and engaging with their shareholders, a frustrating number are failing to address investor concerns.”
These companies appeared on the IA’s Public Register, which it launched in 2017. This register tracks FTSE All-Share companies that have received more than 20% votes against any resolution at an annual general meeting or otherwise. It also records resolutions that were pulled before a vote, potentially avoiding a revolt.
The IA has this month launched a list of “repeat offenders” to highlight the companies that receive repeated protests about the same issues.
Among the “repeat offenders” are three financial services firms with asset management arms: Investec plc, Ashmore Group and a fund listed by Impax Asset Management.
Ninian said: “We expect these companies to provide an update statement to their shareholders on the engagement they had since the AGM vote, the views heard from shareholders and the follow-on actions taken.”
John Scott, chairman of the board of Impax Environmental Markets plc, an investment trust, said the IA’s register “brings necessary transparency to shareholder voting”.
“As a board we find dialogue with the IA on governance to be beneficial, however it is not always the case that these votes are an indication of future shareholder revolt or poor corporate governance, they can also reveal the application of rigid ‘one size fits all’ proxy advice,” he said.
In the investment trust’s case, Scott said the votes against the board registered by the IA related to a proxy adviser’s recommendation for shareholders to vote against the reappointment of Ernst & Young (now EY) as auditor of Impax Environmental Markets, arguing that the group was not independent.
“This view was not shared by other proxy advisers and is not consistent with applicable regulations for the appointment of auditors,” Scott said. “The board has engaged with the proxy adviser on this issue and believes it has taken adequate steps to safeguard independence… The votes against and the board’s response in 2018 are a matter of public record.”
The Public Register also showed that an increasing number of companies are facing shareholder opposition, with rebellions up by just under a quarter in 2018. Some 287 individual resolutions have been added to the Public Register so far in 2018, a jump of 22% from 2017.
Ashmore and Investec declined to comment.