Big institutions such as BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group, and State Street Corp. are now twice as likely as individual investors to back shareholder advocacy on environmental and social issues, according to data released Oct. 2 by Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. and consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
The data show that in 2018, almost 29 percent of institutional shares were voted in favor of shareholder-led proposals pushing public companies in the U.S. on issues such as climate change and gender diversity, while 16 percent of individually held shares were voted in favor of those proposals.
Both types of investors have boosted their support for these types of proposals since 2014, along with others on corporate political spending, the data show.
Many big institutions have come to see issues like climate change as a risk that companies ought to address. BlackRock and Vanguard made waves when they voted for their first climate proposal last year. Last year also marked State Street’s first votes against companies without any women on their boards.
While individual investors don’t vote nearly as often and their votes don’t get as much attention, they are moving in the same direction. Their votes in favor of environmental and social proposals increased four percentage points from 2014 to 2018.
That’s why it’s important for a company to “understand the sentiment of all their shareholders,” not just the biggest, said Chuck Callan, Broadridge’s head of regulatory affairs. Broadridge processes votes that U.S. investors cast on shareholder proposals as well as other more standard corporate matters such as executive pay and director elections.
Money in Politics
Institutional and individual investors are also increasingly getting behind proposals for corporate reporting on money in politics, with overall “for” votes rising from 20 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2018.
“Considering the climate in Washington and the political atmosphere, I think we’ll continue to see further support for those kinds of proposals going forward,” said Paul DeNicola, a principal at PwC’s Governance Insights Center.
Money in politics, climate change, and gender diversity in boardrooms are overtaking more traditional corporate governance concerns as top topics for shareholder advocacy in the U.S. They accounted for the majority of shareholder proposals put forward at Russell 3000 Index companies this year, according to data unveiled this year from Institutional Shareholder Services Inc.
Investors are changing their voting behavior as other characteristics, such as share ownership, remain more or less unchanged. Since 2014, institutions have held about 70 percent of public company shares in the U.S., while individual investors hold the rest, according to the Broadridge and PwC data.
“The voting rates have also been pretty consistent,” DeNicola told Bloomberg Law. Institutions continue to vote about 90 percent of their shares while the voter participation rate for individuals is less than 30 percent, according to the data.
“That hasn’t changed,” he said. “What has changed is the support on specific shareholder proposals.”
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(Updates with link to data and graphic.)