The State of Engagement between U.S. Corporations and Shareholders

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Study Conducted by Institutional Shareholder Services for the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute

At a time when engagement is front and center in the public debate about corporate America, this study provides the first‐ever benchmarking of the level of engagement between investors and public corporations (issuers) in the United States. As evidenced by the provisions of the Dodd Frank legislation, various SEC rule‐makings and the lawsuits contesting them, engagement has emerged as a central governance process for public companies in America. Despite that fact, there has never been a comprehensive picture of investor/corporate engagement and thus no consensus definition of engagement. This study attempts to rectify that lack. It surveyed 335 issuers of stock and 161 investors, including both asset owners (e.g. pension funds, trusts, etc.) and asset managers.

The study reveals both consensus and dissonance. There is broad consensus that engagement between issuers and investors is common and increasing both in terms of frequency and subject areas; that engagement is expanding beyond financial and strategic issues and "traditional" governance topics to include more environmental and social issues; that issues related to executive compensation remain atop the agenda; and that engagement is evolving as increasingly‐sophisticated investors demand more detailed information on all of these topics. Yet engagement also means different things to different people: While some use the term to refer to a campaign to persuade a company to change its behavior, others (particularly issuers themselves) classify routine conversations with investors about financial results as engagement as well. The study also reveals some distinct differences between investors and issuers in terms of the time frame of engagements and the definition of a successful engagement.