Monday, 30 March 2009

Engaging with the banks

There's an interesting interview in FTFM today with Mark Burgess of Legal & General. L&G are one of the big index-tracking managers in the UK market, so typically account for a few percent on the share register of most UK companies. He makes the argument that at least some shareholders were engaging with the banks before the current crisis, but that the banks weren't receptive -
“Dealing with the banks has been the most extraordinary and extreme experience,” he says. He cannot suggest a reason why banks proved so difficult to deal with, but observes: “It is unusual for companies not to listen to the extent the banks didn’t listen. The majority of corporate UK listens to the views of its largest shareholders.”

There's also some stuff about what reform might be necessary -
In Mr Burgess’ view, it is the way boards work that needs to be revisited rather than asking shareholders to be more demanding or revising the Combined Code. He says non-executive directors need to be better informed about the companies they work with and should hold fewer positions. He suggests two to three would be sensible rather than four to six.

This is all reasonable stuff. No-one (I assume) thinks that the Code is an end in itself, rather it's an attempt to put in structures that promote independence and oversight. And what we are all really aiming at in corporate governance is better behaviours and better functioning boards.

But as such (removes hobby horse from cupboard under the stairs and saddles up) wouldn't it be even better to see shareholders fund some behavioural research into how boards actually work? After all behavioural finance already has some traction in fund management. It's not a big leap to think in terms of behavioural governance, is it? There's even the odd book out there that might spur some fresh thinking.

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