BlackRock Gives Big Investors Ability to Vote on Shareholder
Moves stand to transfer votes for as much as $1.5 trillion in
index assets from BlackRock to investors such as pensions and
BlackRock and other large asset managers have faced criticism
over their vast voting power.
PHOTO: JEENAH MOON/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Updated Oct. 7, 2021 1:21 pm ET
Investment giant BlackRock Inc.
is giving institutional investors such as pensions and
endowments the option to cast shareholder votes tied to their
When investors buy a fund from an asset manager,
the money manager typically votes on shareholder proposals on
behalf of the investors.
Starting in 2022, BlackRock says its large investors can vote
themselves on everything from who sits on boards to executive pay to what
companies should disclose on greenhouse gas emissions. The change allows those
BlackRock clients to lay claim to voting power on some $2 trillion in
investments tied to index-tracking assets BlackRock manages in institutional
accounts. This is about 40% of roughly $4.8 trillion of indexed equities managed
“We believe clients should, where possible, have more choices as
to how they participate in voting their index holdings,” BlackRock said in a
client note on Thursday announcing the changes.
BackRock and other large asset managers have faced criticism over
their vast voting power. The Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule
last month that would require money managers to disclose more information on how
they vote on behalf of their clients.
The $9.5 trillion firm rose on the back of a yearslong stock
rally and indexing boom to become a top three shareholder of more than 80% of
the companies in the S&P 500 through its funds, according to S&P Global Market
Intelligence from earlier this year. In the past year, BlackRock funds cast key
votes that helped shake up Toshiba Corp.’s board,
and elect new board members at oil major Exxon
Mobil Corp. ,
among the thousands of votes cast by BlackRock funds.
BlackRock has said the team overseeing voting follows strict
guidelines to maximize investor returns.
As part of the changes, BlackRock will let large investors pick
and choose resolutions on which they want to vote. An investor could decide to
just vote on oil-and-gas companies or private prisons or gun makers—or all
companies. The investor can vote in line with their own rules or values, or vote
with firms such as proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services.
This is the culmination of a yearslong effort by BlackRock to
build the technology infrastructure to direct proxies to clients, sync up
various parts of the shareholder voting ecosystem and make sure investors can
deliver ballots on time.
In the past, certain BlackRock clients have voted their own
proxies on some $480 billion in indexed assets managed by the firm, but
BlackRock didn’t have systems to accommodate more.
If the organizations eligible for this choice exercise their full
voting power, this would lead to a transfer of votes on some $1.5 trillion in
assets from the hands of BlackRock to clients.
BlackRock said that it is “committed to exploring all options to
expand proxy voting choice to even more investors.” That includes individual
investors in exchange-traded funds and index mutual funds.
Over the years, academics and politicians have questioned whether
BlackRock has too much influence through its votes.
In 2018, in response to the index fund boom, Harvard Law School
professor John Coates warned that voting power would be controlled by a small
group of people with “practical power over the majority of U.S. public
BlackRock and other index giants have started to use their votes
more aggressively. Environmentalists and activists have frequently called on the
biggest asset managers to do more to penalize oil companies, while some
investors worry about overreach in their votes.
The world’s second-largest asset manager, Vanguard Group, handed
off some of its voting power in 2019, so outside managers running the firm’s
active stock funds vote separately from funds it manages on its own.
In its client note Thursday, BlackRock said: “This initiative is
consistent with wanting to offer clients choice across everything we do—the
money we manage is not our own, it belongs to our clients.”
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Appeared in the October 8, 2021, print edition as
'BlackRock to Give Up Some Voting Power.'