An industry initiative set up to help institutional investors to escalate material issues with U.K.-listed companies recorded its strongest-ever year of collective engagement activity last year.
The Investor Forum, which was established in 2014 by U.K. equity institutional investors, said in its review of 2020 activities that last year was "a watershed year in the development of the stewardship agenda."
The forum reported 11 collective engagements in 2020, including with Aviva, Barclays, Royal Mail and airline Ryanair. Issues covered by all 11 engagements covered succession, strategic direction, environmental strategy, societal impact, board effectiveness and capital allocation.
In 2019, forum members completed six engagements, including with Vodafone, and completed six engagements in 2018, including with Centrica.
Also in 2020, at the start of the U.K. lockdown in March related to the global coronavirus pandemic, the Investor Forum launched a series of virtual events for its members, dubbed the "Four O'clock Forum." The aim was to provide an opportunity for members to share insights, discuss topical issues and hear from experts. More than 460 people representing 49 of its 52 member firms took part in 22 events. Each of the four forums focused on a different area, including thinking aloud — with attendees exchanging thoughts on issues such as capital raising and increasing regulation; expert speakers, with practitioners including Donald Brydon, chairman of software firm Sage Group and British economist John Kay; and a stewardship session, at which individual companies shared insights into different aspects of governance.
Looking forward, and with the postponed United Nations Climate Change Conference set to take place in Glasgow in November, the forum has called for the introduction of a mandatory non-binding shareholder say on climate regarding disclosure obligations aligned with recommendations in the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
Such a move would "provide a powerful investor signal on the effectiveness of any mandated climate disclosures and ensure alignment between the substance and ambition of company disclosures and its strategic intent," the review said. This approach would "enable the investment community to take a leadership position in helping to ensure that U.K. companies commit to advancing the U.K.'s net-zero commitments," it added.
The Investor Forum's members represent £695 billion ($942.4 billion) in assets, including money managers and institutional investors.