08.15.2014
By Terry Flanagan

Technology Cuts Investor-Communication Costs

Technology for investor communications and proxy voting contributed to record savings for corporate issuers in the 2014 proxy season, helping corporate issuers save more than an estimated $900 million this season on printing and postage, according to Broadridge Financial Solutions.

“Because of consolidations and electronic delivery, we estimate if companies had to send packages by mail, they’d spend $900 million more than they do today,” said Chuck Callan, Broadridge’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs. “We’ve taken a lot of the cost by making this a technology-intensive process.”

About 70% of Broadridge’s business is investor communications, including distributing proxy information, tabulating votes, mutual fund information and trade confirms and statements. It also performs tax processing for brokers, and transfer agent services for corporate issuers directly.

“Although it’s not as high-profile as voting in political elections, proxy voting nevertheless is an important part of what makes companies function, and it’s an important right that you have as a shareholder,” said Callan. “As an equity shareholder you have a dividend right, a cash flow right, and a voting right.”

Overall voting participation increased from 84.3% of shares on average being voted last season to 85.7% this season. Over 95% of the shares cast were voted electronically through one or more of Broadridge’s platforms.

Voting via mobile proxyvote.com, used by on-the-go shareholders, grew by 70% over last year at this time to a record 1.5 million accounts. This season, more than two times as many shares were voted through proxyvote.com than by paper ballot. The statistics report covers meetings between March 1, 2014 and June 14, 2014.

There are about 12,000 shareholder meetings in the U.S. annually. Approximately 4,000 of those happen during the spring proxy season, which Broadridge defines as March 1 through June 14. Those 4,000 meetings tend to be the larger companies because they have a year-end fiscal year.

The vast majority of publicly traded shares in the United States are registered on companies’ books not in the names of beneficial owners, but rather in the name used by The Depository Trust Co. Shares held in this manner are referred to as being held in the ‘street name’.

The street name registration system was created to facilitate securities trading, eliminate paperwork, and preserve the confidentiality of beneficial owners’ identities. DTC holds shares on behalf of banks and brokers, which in turn hold on behalf of their clients, who are the beneficial owners.

“Most of the shares are held in street name,” said Callan. “The broker is the owner of record of those shares. So the proxy goes with the record ownership. What you’re actually doing is you’re instructing the broker how to vote his proxy. Every account holder at Merrill Lynch that has shares in IBM is instructing Merrill Lynch to vote its overall IBM position.”

In the case of pension funds, beneficial owners may be the underlying account holders, in which cases the pension fund manager will do the voting.

Feature image via vinzstudio/Dollar Photo Club

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