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Retirement Plans

NZ Super seeks overseas allies in engagement push with social media giants

Matt Whineray

Matt Whineray, CEO of the NZ$41.2 billion ($27.9 billion) New Zealand Superannuation Fund, said Monday he will ask big sovereign wealth funds and public pension funds gathering in London this week to back a push for social media giants to more effectively cull content that incites violence and cruelty from their platforms.

The topic has taken on urgency in the wake of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack that saw a lone gunman kill 50 worshippers at two mosques in the city, Mr. Whineray said.

In particular, the perpetrator's ability to live stream those attacks on Facebook and Twitter raises concerns, effectively "weaponizing" those platforms in a way that could prompt copy cat atrocities, he said.

Leading public funds in New Zealand responded by launching a joint shareholder engagement initiative aimed at pushing companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to strengthen controls on objectionable content.

"Collective actions tend to be the more successful ones, and if we can get a number of funds together with a lot of assets under management," there's greater likelihood of getting those companies' attention and hopefully effecting some change, Mr. Whineray said.

The initiative, after attracting a "massive inflow of support" from local institutional investors and fund managers, is looking now to garner further support internationally, he said.

A NZ Super announcement Monday said the initiative has won the backing of 23 institutional investors with combined AUM of NZ$800 billion, including large funds outside of Australasia, such as the U.K.'s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum – which represents 79 local government pension funds with combined assets of 230 billion ($299.5 billion).

Later this week, at a global conference for sovereign wealth funds and public pension funds in London, Mr. Whineray said he will be seeking further allies to provide additional heft for that engagement initiative.

The CEO said New Zealand Super has commissioned its own research on what the technical solutions to the problem of preventing objectionable material from being uploaded and distributed could look like, to be "in a better position to engage" with those social media giants.

As a general matter, "if something is sufficiently important to us and we're unable to get a resolution of it through engagement," excluding a stock from the portfolio would be a consideration, but engagement is the focus, he said.