While the topic of last week’s fourth SEC-NYU Dialogue on Securities Markets was shareholder engagement—focusing on the roles of institutional and activist investors— the real hot topic was the recent letter to CEOs from BlackRock’s Laurence Fink, which was at least mentioned on every panel. (See this PubCo post.)
The substantial increase in activism on corporate governance issues by large institutional shareholders and asset managers qua investors has been hard to miss. Now, joining the ranks of these other enormous asset managers and passive institutional investors—such as BlackRock and State Street (see, e.g., this PubCo post, this PubCo post and this PubCo post)—Vanguard has recently announced, in its Investment Stewardship Report for 2017, that it too has been taking a more active role in advocating for effective corporate governance at its portfolio investments. But what has triggered this shift? After all, it’s not as though these institutional investors are new to the sport—they’ve been shareholders for many, many years, but mostly of the low-key variety. Why this noisy advocacy now?