Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Dear Mr. Fink": Stakeholder Governance Prioritizes Soothing "the political consciences of asset managers" Over Protecting Retirement Accounts

As reported here,

Thirty-one fellow CEOs wrote May 1 to BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink to argue that a publicly traded company is responsible to investors and shouldn’t engage in politics in the midst of an economic crisis.

What follows are some excerpts from the letter, which can be found in full here.

The word “stakeholder,” when used in this context, is intentionally nebulous. It can mean whatever the user chooses it to mean. And therefore, it means nothing....

any honest assessment of the successful “shareholder” model MUST acknowledge that it is inarguably stakeholder friendly as well. The distinction between the two models is purely cosmetic, an artificial construct purposefully fashioned to sow confusion and to permit its architects to pursue their own ends rather than those of American business.

In most cases, these ends are political. By adopting an explicitly “stakeholder”-centered model, activists are attempting to subvert the great American process of self-government, substituting their own views and beliefs for those of the people. By drawing a false distinction between shareholders and stakeholders, asset managers like BlackRock, CalPERS, and countless others intend to “target” corporations whose business models don’t meet their personal definitions of acceptable behavior. Whether done to intimidate corporations into toeing the vacuous and amorphous “sustainability” line, or to force “unacceptable” corporations out of business, the net effect is the same, namely the creation of an overtly ideological and extra-legal regulatory regime....

asset managers who capitalize on Americans’ inherent goodness and decency to push their own values under the headings of “sustainability” and “stakeholders,” are playing politics with OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. An asset or wealth manager’s primary fiduciary responsibility is to his CLIENTS… to manage the CLIENTS’ assets faithfully and in keeping with the CLIENTS’ needs, values, and risk tolerance. Substituting one’s own political predilections for the obligations owed to the clients is among the most offensive and irresponsible actions a manager can take. This is all the more the case when the manager is not chosen by the individual investor but dictated by law, as is the case with government employee retirement and pension plans.

Particularly now, in the age of COVID-19, the related economic collapse, and exponentially expanding state budget deficits, it is absolutely imperative that state and public employee pension funds – most of which were woefully underfunded BEFORE the collapse, during the longest bull market in history – NOT be used to soothe the political consciences of asset managers hired by the state or the government officials responsible for assigning those contracts. These are benefits that have been promised to workers and HAVE ALREADY BEEN EARNED. To risk them in pursuit of political trends and fads is the height of irresponsibility.

Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink


It makes sense to see this kind of pushback. Given the strength of some of those comments, I wondered which CEOs would be willing to sign a letter like that. If you look at the signatory list, it is not exactly an illustrious group.

Posted by: Brett McDonnell | May 13, 2020 9:18:52 AM

This is fascinating. Thanks for posting. I’m actually using Fink’s 2020 letter to CEOs and this May letter in my summer class on compliance, corporate governance, and sustainability. Will be interesting to see how the students come out on this debate.

Posted by: Marcia L. Narine Weldon | May 13, 2020 9:38:13 AM

Another reason keep one's business concern "private."

Posted by: Tom N. | May 14, 2020 6:54:12 AM

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