This week might just have seen a marked shift in how British investors think about their role as owners of companies.
First up we had three of our largest unions teaming up behind a set of governance guidelines which they will wave noisily in the air at AGMs, but more significantly, Tuesday morning saw the first steps towards building the kind of collaborative architecture for investors envisioned by the Kay Review.
As first steps go, it’s fairly tentative (as was the first, first step). In a sparse announcement, the Association of British Insurers, the National Association of Pension Funds and Investment Management Association said they will set up a working group to report back on how collective engagement “might be enhanced to make a positive difference.” It is a response to Economist John Kay’s government-backed report from last July, which argued funds could improve returns to savers by presenting a united front to company boards.
We’ve looked before at how difficult this will be given the diversity of outlook and motivation among investors. Significantly, Tuesday’s statement makes explicit reference to drawing in “overseas investors” who at the last count were heading towards ownership of half the UK stock market, though quite how that might work is hard to see. IMA chief executive Daniel Godfrey told Reuters he has already spent some time sounding out some of those foreign share owners, and encountered a “range of views and a range of enthusiasms.” The next step, he says, is to work out whether there’s a way to navigate past the obstacles.
The members of the working group tasked with this will be named by the end of next month and will be expected to deliver an answer in the autumn. The hope will be that they can avoid some of the issues which have hampered the ABI, NAPF and IMA’s last effort to join forces.