THE new chief of the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) Finian O'Boyle has called on all institutional investors to lift the veil of excessive secrecy surrounding company meetings and where possible to open up their voting records to public scrutiny.
In a move, which he claims would boost corporate transparency and help restore trust in business, Mr O'Boyle, recently appointed by Chief Executive Mervyn Pedelty as Chief Operating Officer of CIS, said that institutional investors should put their voting records online.
Speaking at the launch of the CIS' latest social accountability report Mr O'Boyle said: `We believe institutions have a duty to fully exercise their voting rights. Companies' annual general meetings provide an invaluable opportunity to express opinion on a wide range of issues and in the interests of transparency institutions should reveal how and why they have voted on any one issue.
`Ultimately, institutional investors are responsible to their customers or members, who are policyholders or individual members of pension funds. So why is there a need for secrecy once votes have been cast? The institutions should have the courage of their convictions and reveal where they stand on issues brought to the vote.
`At a time when trust in business is at a low ebb, this move could go a long way towards restoring public confidence in big business. It would also demonstrate that investors like CIS are not campaigning against specific companies, but instead are applying best practice on behalf of their own customers.`
CIS is committed to using its voting rights at every available opportunity in every company in which it invests. Last year CIS was the first UK investor to put its entire voting record on its website. Its social accountability report shows that, during 2002, CIS voted on 12,043 motions at 1,551 general meetings in the UK and overseas and the website details exactly how it voted at each UK AGM.
Chief Executive Mervyn Pedelty added: `In recent years CIS has developed a reputation for the way it engages with companies in which it invests. The focus of this engagement has been, predominantly, on issues of corporate governance but has also covered the environmental and social performance of companies. CIS' social accountability report also highlights issues which demonstrate our commitment to corporate social responsibility. During 2002, we launched a formalised diversity policy, which saw staff appointed as `diversity champions` for disability, gender and ethnicity. These champions act as central points of contact for managers and other members of staff for advice, guidance and information.`
The Society's performance in the area of staff volunteering also accelerated in 2002 with 574 staff completing 38 team challenges for Greater Manchester Cares, which equates to 3,955 working hours and is the equivalent of two years work by a single employee.
CIS' Community Involvement policy was developed further throughout the year by the introduction of an impact assessment framework. This enables CIS to fully assess the value and social benefits of its £ 1.65 million community investment programme. For example the £ 10,000 donation made to mental health charity MIND will enable the charity to recruit 12 new volunteers. It is envisaged that these volunteers will handle over 3,100 calls from those people in mental distress.
To obtain a full copy of the report telephone 0161 837 4912 or log onto www.cis.co.uk. The report is also available in Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Welsh.
PICTURE ABOVE … (Left to right) Mervyn Pedelty CFS Chief Executive and Finian O'Boyle CIS Chief Operating Officer.