Give mutual fund investors a voice in shareholder proxy voting – Gita Rao

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Gita Rao

From MarketWatch

Are you concerned about climate change, or about social issues such as corporate board diversity? Can you as a shareholder have your preferences communicated to company management and perhaps impact corporate policy on these issues? For the majority of individual investors, the short answer is “no.”

That’s because most individual investors own mutual funds. But the structure of the mutual fund makes it difficult to reflect shareholder objectives and values related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

The growth in individual shareholder ownership ironically has created a huge gap in corporate governance and accountability. The ownership of Corporate America lies largely with employees through 401(k) plans and other retirement vehicles, except these same employee-owners cannot and do not have proxy voting rights — these are exercised by the fund providers.

Given the size of retail assets that fund managers control — collectively close to $10 trillion — there is a valid concern about their voting practices not reflecting the preferences of the millions of investors in their funds. A typical fund has to vote on hundreds of proxies each year, most of them routine. The voting process is centralized and fairly automated, with default guidelines regarding how the shares are voted. The fund manager conducts analysis only on issues that materially impact a company’s financial or operating performance, and then casts a vote.

Having managed mutual funds for a long time and voted hundreds of proxies globally, I believe there is a simple and direct way to reflect shareholder ESG preferences in the voting of proxies: Through the fund prospectus.  Read More »

To remain a superpower, the US must become inclusive and generous — Gita Rao

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer  Gita Rao

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Gita Rao

From Quartz 

In his new book, Superpower, Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer suggests three strategic options for America to remain a global superpower. But while many lawmakers appear to be taking his preferred option of an “Independent America” to heart, we believe it’s the wrong choice. In fact, Bremmer leaves out a fourth approach that we feel is the best strategy for America to win not only on the current global chessboard, but on the next one as well.

With the US reluctantly being drawn back into putting out fires in the Middle East, warily watching Russian aggression, facing a stop-and-start “Asia pivot,” and on the sidelines the Greek crisis unfolds or Chinese stock markets go through turmoil, reviewing these options is timely for President Obama; they may be even more important for his successor.

Read More »