Expression of wish: the benefits for asset managers
Author: Rossie Mayhew, Fund Manager Partnerships Executive, Tumelo
Since the Big Three asset managers (BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street) announced they are offering pass-through voting solutions to their clients, the topic of giving investors the ability to vote in pooled funds has grown in popularity. Asset managers' clients are becoming increasingly aware that flexible voting options exist beyond just segregated mandates.
However, pass-through voting is not the only method to satisfy clients who wish to be more involved in voting decisions. Asset managers can also offer expression of wish.
What is expression of wish?
"Expression of wish", as coined by the DWP's Taskforce on Pension Scheme Voting Implementation (TPSVI), refers to when an asset manager captures and considers the voting preferences of their clients (institutional and retail investors) but retains the right to vote themselves. They can capture this on an ad-hoc and high-level basis via emails, or utilise existing technology that streamlines the collection of client preferences on specific AGM proposals and themes.
What are the benefits of offering an expression of wish solution to your clients?
Here are four of the key benefits we see today:
1) Meet regulatory recommendations.
There is growing regulatory pressure for asset managers to seek out and incorporate clients' expressions of wish into their stewardship practices:
In 2020, before the term "expression of wish" was used, the leading standard for stewardship in the UK, the UK Stewardship Code, called for signatories to prove "how they have sought and received clients' views" and "how they have taken account of the views of clients and what actions they have taken as a result".
A year later, in the September 2021 report from the DWP's TPSVI, it was recommended that all asset managers offer expression of wish in pooled funds, and suggested that if asset managers don't act fast enough to do this, legal frameworks could be put in place (1).
The FCA clarified in October 2021 that there is "no breach of fund rules where a fund manager takes the expression of wish into account when voting".
In June 2022, the PLSA and Investment Association agreed in their joint paper on asset manager and asset owner alignment, that expression of wish is important in enhancing client's voice and could "provide additional insights on client's stewardship priorities".
Ensuring that client opinions are incorporated into voting and stewardship practices is the likely direction of travel for the UK, and presents asset managers with the opportunity to plan ahead before guidelines become legal requirements.
2) Stay ahead of competitors.
Asset managers are beginning to offer more voting choices to investors.
In the last two years, eight asset managers, making up $27.5 trillion in AUM, have chosen to offer advanced proxy voting solutions to their clients (2). Most asset owners use multiple asset managers to manage their money, so if one of their managers offers a voting solution, that asset owner may wish to use similar solutions across all their assets - so as to manage them fairly. In this situation, asset managers who already offer such solutions will undoubtedly be more attractive come contract-renewal time, or when attracting clients who want these solutions.
There is data to support this hypothesis:
"In the DWP's TPSVI report, 62% of surveyed asset owners said they would want to give their expressions of wish to their asset managers."
However, 70% of asset managers said no to offering this to clients. This shows a clear demand in the market that is not yet being met, providing an opportunity for asset managers to win new clients and increase AUM.
3) Enrich stewardship and voting practices by incorporating client preferences
Where appropriate asset managers can utilise the expressions of wish from clients to progress conversations with investee companies. By giving evidence that a particular issue is not only important to them, but also to their clients, asset managers can bolster their engagement rationales.
Additionally, asset managers can use expression of wish as a data feed to inform the creation or review of their voting policy, and when making voting decisions to make sure they are aligned with their clients. Aviva Investors describes how they do this within their application to the UK Stewardship Code here.
4) Better understand your clients and strengthen relationships
Expressions of wish can be used to inform sales and marketing teams about about their clients' stewardship priorities. Incorporating these specific priorities, such as animal welfare or biodiversity, into marketing materials can be used as a tool to target existing clients and win new customers. Similarly, the expression of wish data feed can be used to inform product design, from investment vehicles to client user apps and interfaces.
Opening up dialogue around stewardship can also be incredibly positive for asset managers' relationships with their clients. By listening and incorporating client feedback into investment and stewardship practices, they can build strong loyalty and trust with their clients.
Asset managers are increasingly being asked to participate in discussions about what is the right thing to do for their investors when it comes to proxy voting choices.
Many of the largest asset managers in the world have acted. Regulation is advancing. Pass-through voting is one option to satisfy clients who want more choice in voting. However, expression of wish should be seen as a separate option that brings with it many other benefits, such as improved relationships and a greater understanding of clients, while still enabling the asset manager to do the voting.
Expression of wish could be a stepping stone to pass-through voting for some asset managers, but for others, expression of wish in and of itself is crucial to maintaining effective communication with clients on stewardship priorities.
Tumelo is a pioneering fintech business that is helping fund managers drive deeper, real-time transparency and engagement with their investors. To learn more about how Tumelo's expression of wish solution could be incorporated into your services, book a demo with us.
(1) See p41-43 of the Taskforce on Pension Scheme Voting Implementation's report.
(2) The figures were totalled from AUM data obtained from each asset managers’ website or ADV Ratings. The asset managers are: BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity International, SSGA, LGIM, DWS, Charles Schwab, and Aviva Investors.