Asset managers need to step up on stewardship: report

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Business and office concept - businessman and businesswoman shaking hands © dolgachov /123RF Stock PhotosWhile some major investment firms have made notable positive contributions to stewardship, the industry needs to step up its game, according to a report from Willis Towers Watson.

The report noted certain highly publicized efforts by asset managers aimed to raise awareness around the lack of women on corporate boards.

However, overall, stewardship action accounts for just a small percentage of asset manager activity, the report found.

“As large index tracking asset managers continue to grow and become increasingly dominant shareholders of many companies, so grows their responsibility for high quality stewardship,” said Stephen Miles, senior director and head of equities, Willis Towers Watson, in a release. “Some may see it as an inconvenient responsibility as it involves time-consuming and, at times, uncomfortable conversations with company management. But stewardship is a critical part of corporate oversight and value creation within the industry.”

In order to push these activities further, the report identified five key focus areas.

First, it highlighted the lack of resources dedicated to stewardship noting that the amount would be more than 10 times higher on average if a quarter of one basis point of each asset invested was directed to stewardship.

As well, there isn’t sufficient clarity around what asset managers’ specific and most urgent goals are in carrying our stewardship. The report suggested implementing tangible milestones, defining what success actually looks like in this context.

Further, asset managers could use their voting rights to greater advantage. The report noted there appears to some reticence to vote against management recommendations from portfolio companies.

Still another important catalyst is collaboration. The research noted that there is little collaborative action between asset managers, but stewardship is an area where they should work cooperatively rather than competing.

And finally, the report said there is a need for stronger leadership from asset managers, in terms of proactively establishing the standards they expect from portfolio companies.

“There should be no place for halfhearted, reactive stewardship and there is a huge opportunity for those who really step up,” added Miles.

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