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New activist venture to address the largest shareholder vote of most public companies


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Source: Insightia, June 24, 2022, article

Retail investors are due to play a much more significant role influencing proxy votes with the introduction of As You Sow's and Tulipshare's new investment platform.

In a Wednesday announcement, shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow and U.K.-based fintech Tulipshare announced a strategic partnership to "empower retail investors globally to use their shareholder power in support of resolutions on climate, racial justice, and other pressing issues."

The partnership will enable retail investors to vote for As You Sow shareholder resolutions, which have this proxy season called on leading U.S. companies such as Amazon, McDonald's, and Twitter to strengthen their ESG commitments and reporting.

"This platform is coming at an opportune time given the rise in shareholder proposal submissions and proposals that are going to votes," Brian Valerio, senior vice-president, advisory group at Alliance Advisors told me in an interview. "The retail investment community is notoriously underrepresented at shareholder meetings, but there is growing sentiment and evidence that retail holders are particularly interested in ESG."

As You Sow submitted 90 resolutions with U.S.-listed companies this proxy season, 60% of which were withdrawn prior to annual meetings for agreements with companies. A further six went on to win majority support from investors at companies such as Boeing, The Travelers Co., and Caterpillar.

This new development is likely to bolster support for ESG shareholder proposals and strengthen shareholder advocacy, which As You Sow noted has "largely been in the domain of large institutions."

According to a 2020 report by Broadridge and PwC, individual investor's votes only accounted for 28% of total shares voted during the proxy season, but this is set to change.

"2021 was the year of the retail investor," Cas Sydorowitz, global CEO at Georgeson, told me in an interview this week. "This shareholder group could yield significant voting power. Companies with a large retail investor base will require vastly different shareholder engagement strategies and tactics."

In August 2021, Robinhood Markets agreed to buy proxy voting services provider Say Technologies for $140 million, with the goal of boosting retail investor engagement with portfolio companies and making it "easier for everyday investors to participate as owners."

JP Morgan acquired shareholder engagement service OpenInvest that same month to provide investors with the ability to "personalize their investments."

Retail investors could change the game in more respects than just support for ESG shareholder proposals. A growth in participation of retail investors in shareholder meetings, proxy fights, and other corporate actions may lead to issuers facing requests for new information or different reporting. 

Outreach to retail investors formed a critical part of Engine No. 1's campaign at the oil giant last year and Trian Partners' 2017 proxy contest at Procter & Gamble. The retail component of each company's shareholder base was well over 30% and was thought to be less supportive of management than expected based on past contests.

"Ultimately, the success of shareholder proposals largely hinges on larger voting blocs held by institutional investors, however, the power of retail shareholders should not be overlooked and may be impactful depending on a company's shareholder profile," Valerio said. "This new partnership reinforces the importance of companies understanding their shareholder base and effectively communicating with retail shareholders."


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