Companies' engagement activities 'disappointingly poor'
GLOBAL - Research on stewardship by the UK's largest asset managers has revealed a huge gulf between the best and the worst performers.
The report - called 'Stewardship in the Spotlight: UK asset managers' public disclosure practices on voting and engagement' by charity FairPensions - found that standards of disclosure in the investment industry remained low.
However, FairPensions did note a modest overall improvement in asset managers' transparency, boosted by the Financial Reporting Council's Stewardship Code.
Close to half of the asset managers surveyed (41%) make no information publicly available on engagement activities, with just 31% provide detailed explanations of sample engagements.
While the best performer makes available resolution-by-resolution disclosures on votes cast across the globe - including a considered rationale for votes the manager believes could be deemed contentious - 17% still do not disclose any information on voting.
The same number also does not provide any publicly available policy explaining their approach to incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in investment activities.
As a result, FairPensions deemed the visibility of meaningful information on stewardship activities such as voting and engagement as "disappointingly poor" for individual members of pension schemes who use the managers in this survey.
While the Stewardship Code has attracted significant industry support - with 24 of the 29 asset managers surveyed publishing a compliance statement - the quality of the statements is highly variable, according to the research.
FairPensions said the statements varied from cursory one-liners on vitally important conflicts of interest policies to detailed, stand-alone policy documents listing all relevant conflicts and the arrangements in place to manage them effectively.
The compliance statements also lack reference to the management of environmental and social risks.
Catherine Howarth, chief executive at FairPensions, said: "The FRC has done well in getting major players in the investment industry to sign up to the Stewardship Code.
"However, the early evidence suggests a proactive approach to encouraging effective application of the principles will be essential."
Top performers in the survey included F&C Asset Management, scoring 95%, Baillie Gifford with 90% and Newton Investment Management with 88%.
Morgan Stanley, Wellington Management and INVESCO Perpetual made up the bottom three.
Companies that have made a significant positive breakthrough in performance compared with previous years include Henderson, Threadneedle, Capital and State Street.