Shareholder Governance through Disclosure
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2014-05-15
Index fund sponsors today oversee about 18% of all mutual fund and ETF assets (or $2.3 trillion), but their ability to govern is hampered by a pressing need to keep expense ratios low (ICI, 2013). Thus traditional governance channels, such as evaluating and guiding project selection by managers (intervention), are foreclosed to them. Neither can these fund sponsors strategically trade in response to private information, because they must hold the index. Nonetheless, index fund sponsors would still like to govern their portfolio companies, because high index returns mean more inflows into their funds and fees. In my paper, Shareholder Governance through Disclosure, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I conjecture that index fund sponsors govern by asking management of firms to disclose more about their activities. These disclosures can facilitate the monitoring activities of all stakeholders and increase firm value, thus benefiting the index fund sponsor. For example, more disclosure enhances other blockholders’ monitoring activities and makes stock prices more informative about management’s actions. In addition, eliciting such disclosures about current projects undertaken by management does not require the index fund sponsor to invest in and acquire specific skills about how to run the business. This feature of disclosure makes it particularly attractive to index fund sponsors, who compete by keeping their expenses low.