Archive for December, 2007

A big update

After finishing the “alpha” version of ProxyDemocracy in June, we spent a lot of time gathering feedback from various people about how to improve the site. Today we roll out a new version (which we’re calling the “beta”) which incorporates essentially all of these ideas and presents a whole bunch of new data. There’s a long way to go but I’m excited about what we’ve got so far:

  1. New data: Our database includes almost 600,000 votes from 75 funds between 2004 and 2007. Most of the biggest fund families (Vanguard, Fidelity, Franklin, Dodge and Cox, etc) are represented, as well as a bunch of the largest SRI (socially responsible investing) funds. All of this data comes from filings made to the SEC. We also have included votes from two sources that don’t submit SEC filings (because they are not mutual funds) — CalPERS, the California pension fund, and CBIS, an investment manager for Catholic institutions. These institutions, both respected shareholder activists, post their votes on their web sites.
  2. New ways to look at the data:
    • New proposal categories: Users wanted more categories of votes for a finer-grained view of funds’ voting histories. We now have 15 categories that better reflect the variety of issues brought up in proposals.
    • Better vote profiles: For each fund, you can see the number of “for”, “against”, and “abstain” votes it cast by proposal type — in raw number, percent, and in a nice little bar graph. We also let you click on each count to see the proposals on which the fund voted a particular way. (For example, see CalPERS’ vote profile, and click through to examine the two social and environmental proposals it voted against.)
    • Vote profiles for fund families: If you’re interested in how Vanguard voted its shares, you could look at how the individual Vanguard funds in our database voted. But now you can see an aggregate vote record for Vanguard and other fund families. (Still on to-do list: drill-down from vote profile for fund families.)
    • Votes aggregated by fund family: Since the various funds in a fund family almost always vote the same way on a proposal, it makes sense to report the position the fund family took on a proposal rather than taking up space listing how each fund voted. (An example of this display, from Apple’s 2007 meeting.) You can still drill down to see the individual fund votes.
    • Side-by-side comparisons of funds’ records on particular categories of proposals: Compare funds’ records on executive compensation proposals.
    • Links to proposal text and vote results: Our data sources at this point have only brief descriptions of the proposals (eg “Limit Executive Compensation”), nothing on who submitted the proposal, and no voting results. Users wanted this information, so we now provide links on each meeting page to the SEC filings in which the company announces the proposals (ie the “proxy statement”) and, after the meeting, discloses the results.
    • Better pagination: Testers told us it was hard to find companies in numbered page lists. They were right, it was. We hope it’s better now.
  3. Higher speed: Roop put some work into making the app fast, and I think it makes a huge difference.

We certainly have a long way to go in making this massive pile of data useful to investors, but I find it encouraging to think how much we have already helped advance transparency surrounding proxy voting. A few years ago, you had to write letters and make phone calls to find out how your mutual fund voted. Then starting in 2004 you could look up mutual fund votes by downloading huge text files from the SEC website, which remains a distinctly unpleasant experience. Using our tools it now takes only a few seconds to find a specific proposal and see how a few dozen fund families voted. It remains to be seen how we can use that data to help investors choose funds and even vote their own shares, and ultimately to improve corporate governance. But I am proud we’ve gotten this far.


December 13, 2007 at 6:29 pm 2 comments


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