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Institutional Investors Push Financial Firms to Adopt SOP

Melissa Klein Aguilar | February 1, 2010

A list of groups that reads like a who's who among institutional investors have joined forces to urge 17 financial firms to adopt say on pay votes this year.

The group of 30 investors, which includes Walden Asset Management, California Public Employees' Retirement System, AFSCME, TIAA-CREF, and the Council of Institutional Investors, sent a letter to the chief executives and chairs of the Compensation and Governance Committees at 17 financial institutions, urging them to enact shareowner advisory votes on executive compensation. Goldman Sachs, State Street, and Bank of New York Mellon have all adopted say on pay.

The companies targeted include JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and U.S. Bancorp.

Non-binding annual shareholder votes on executive pay, which are standard practice in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, have been a focus of U.S. shareholders since at least 2006.

"Adopting Say on Pay is not only an idea whose time has come, it is a reasonable and modest step compared to other remedies under consideration to address executive compensation in the industry," the Jan. 27 letter says.

Recipients of TARP funds were required under the Recovery Act legislation to implement an advisory vote on pay in 2009. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation that would require all public companies to provide for a shareholder advisory vote on pay, and the Senate is also mulling a bill advocating Say on Pay. Meanwhile, shareholder support for say-on-pay proposals has increased steadily, averaging 46 percent in 2009, according to data tracked by RiskMetrics Group.

The letter notes that 40 companies have voluntarily adopted advisory votes on executive compensation so far. Notably, Goldman Sachs' Board in mid-December agreed to implement Say on Pay beginning in the company's 2010 proxy statement. State Street followed suit in January.

While CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Joseph Dear said the public pension giant "doesn't see a shareowner advisory vote as a panacea," Dear noted in a statement that companies that adopt the policy "will significantly advance sound governance goals of improved accountability to investors and the creation of long-term share value."