The Proxy Advisory Industry: Influencing and Being Influenced
62 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2020 Last revised: 19 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 19, 2021
Mutual funds rely on recommendations from proxy advisors when voting in corporate elections. Proxy advisors’ influence has been a source of controversy, but it is difficult to study because information linking funds to their advisors is not publicly available. A key innovation of this paper is to show how fund-advisor links can be inferred from previously unnoticed features of a fund’s SEC filings. Using this method to infer links, I establish several novel facts about the proxy advisory industry. During 2007-2017, the market share of the two largest proxy advisory firms has declined slightly from 96.5 percent to 91 percent, with Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) controlling 63 percent of the market and Glass Lewis 28 percent in the most recent year. A large fraction of ISS customers appear to have robo-voted, rising from 5 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2017, at which time over 50 percent of small index funds robo-voted. Negative recommendations from ISS or Glass Lewis reduce their customers’ votes by over 20 percent in director elections and say-on-pay proposals. Finally, proxy advisors cater to investors’ preferences, adjusting their recommendations to align with fund preferences independent of whether those adjustments lead to recommendations that maximize firm value.
Keywords: Proxy Advisor, Corporate Voting, Robo Voting, Shareholder Rights
JEL Classification: G23, G34, G38, G40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation