Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders exceeded electoral expectations with critiques accusing the financial industry of deepening and perpetuating the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Today Stephen Silberstein, owner of the Stephen M. Sliberstein Revocable Trust, is pressuring the world’s largest asset manager to pay more attention to excessive pay and benefits for corporate executives, but the asset manager argues that the accusations are based on skewed research.
Silberstein, co-founder of Innovative Interfaces, a developer of library software, is bringing a shareholder proposal that orders BlackRock to alter its proxy voting practices on say-on-pay decisions.
"Investment companies have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their customers and an obligation to vote accordingly,” said Silberstein in a released statement. “It is not in the best interests of investors, or the shareholders of BlackRock, to have ever escalating CEO pay, or even high CEO pay, at the companies in which they invest."
Earlier this year, New York-based BlackRock, which manages some $4.6 trillion in assets globally, was singled out in “The 100 Most Overpaid CEOs,” a report by not-for-profit corporate watchdog As You Sow, for approving 97 percent of the say-on-pay votes involving a list of ‘overpaid’ CEOs.
As You Sow makes executive pay a central issue of its advocacy efforts, according to Rosanna Landis Weaver, the report’s author. She argues that CEO overpay encourages financial manipulation, exacerbates widespread income inequality and encourages a short-term approach to corporate management which harms investors.
“To me it’s an issue of social justice,” Landis Weaver says. “It’s part of a larger issue of what kind of country do we want to be. As an investor, I just have crumbs in a 401(k), but I want my crumbs to be voting for a long-term sustainable future.”
Landis Weaver says As You Sow identified 30 red flags that were indicators of overpaid executive leadership, including a regression analysis of executive pay and financial performance, comparisons between pay increases and stock price; buybacks; dividend payouts; company value and employee pay; pay increases occurring at the expense of other stakeholder concerns; and CEO pay ratings by other third-party organizations including proxy-voting advisors.
In an appendix, the report examines how mutual fund companies approach say-on-pay votes to approve executive compensation packages, finding that among 23 major mutual fund companies, the "overpaid" CEO compensation packages were opposed at a median rate of 22 percent.
“It’s almost a presumption of innocence,” says Landis Weaver. “BlackRock is on the extreme, though, they’re barely voting against anything.”