By Ross Kerber
BOSTON (Reuters) – State Street’s asset-management arm will give retail investors an option to fully back corporate boards as it brings online features to allow fund shareholders to control their proxy voting rights, executives said.
The option comes as State Street and rivals move to devolve proxy voting powers to shareholders on matters like director elections or environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
The strategy could blunt criticism the companies, known for their passive funds, have gotten from many sides over their votes at corporate annual meetings.
State Street Global Advisors said in May that by next year some investors of its index equity assets could influence their votes by choosing among various policies offered by proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services.
It has offered seven such policies including the ISS benchmark policy and alternatives that allow investors to cast their votes to emphasize things like socially responsible investing or union-oriented voting priorities.
State Street also has offered the “ISS Global Board Aligned” policy, created this year by ISS in a bid to assuage the concerns of some U.S. Republican politicians who had criticized the proxy advisor for supporting too many environmental or social causes.
But even that policy directed some proxy votes to be cast against boards’ recommendations on governance questions like executive pay or share structure, said Lori Heinel, global chief investment officer at State Street Global Advisors.
She said the worry was the policy could be misunderstood given its name, and worked with ISS to develop the new option. “The angle here was, if you say you’re aligned with management, let’s go all-in,” she said.
State Street Global Advisors manages $3.7 trillion in all. Its voting choice program has been open to institutional investors to date, and will open to most retail investors starting on Wednesday. Of its $1.7 trillion in index equity assets available under the program, $1.36 trillion is currently eligible with the remainder aimed to be available by the end of next year.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Stephen Coates)