Less is More: Making Institutional Investor Activism a Valuable Mechanism of Corporate Governance

Posted: 18 Feb 2002

See all articles by Roberta Romano

Roberta Romano

Yale Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)


Institutional investors have increasingly engaged in corporate governance activities, introducing proxy proposals and negotiating with management, with a goal of improving performance. As shareholder activism has become more pronounced, financial economists have attempted to measure its effect on performance. This Article reviews the finance literature on institutional investors' activities in corporate governance and uses the findings of the empirical literature to inform normative recommendations for the proxy process. In brief, there is an apparent paradox: notwithstanding the development of shareholder activism and commentators' generally positive assessments of it, the empirical research indicates that such activism has little or no effect on targeted firms' performance. This implies that activist institutions ought to reassess their agendas, in order to use their resources more effectively. The Article takes a two-pronged approach to furthering this aim. First, it suggests a mechanism of internal control, whereby funds would engage in periodic review of their shareholder-activism programs to identify the most fruitful governance objectives. Second, it seeks ways to provide incentives to undertake such internal revaluations, advocating elimination or significant reduction of the subsidy of proposal sponsorship under the SEC rules unless a proposal achieves substantial voting support, or permitting firms' shareholders to choose what level of subsidy they wish to provide proposal sponsors. The estimated savings from eliminating the subsidy for proposals that fail to receive at least 40% of the votes ranges from $293 million to $1.9 billion.

Keywords: Institutional investors, corporate governance, shareholder activism

JEL Classification: G34

Suggested Citation

Romano, Roberta, Less is More: Making Institutional Investor Activism a Valuable Mechanism of Corporate Governance. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=297184

Roberta Romano (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

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HOME PAGE: http://www.ecgi.org

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