About one-third of investors (36 percent) say that poor corporate governance had led them to reduce or divest holdings in a company, slightly up from last year (30 percent), and only about half of investors (49 percent) agree that they can trust companies to provide complete and accurate financial information upon which they can make investment decisions, according to a recent Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Personal-Finance Poll.
Almost half of U.S. adult investors (49 percent) say that boards of directors are most responsible for corporate governance, an increase from 45 percent in 2005. Twenty-one percent of investors consider chief executive officers to be the most responsible, while nineteen percent say senior management is most responsible.
About half of investors agree that boards of directors are effective at overseeing the companies they govern (55 percent) and at managing executive compensation (45 percent). Most investors say that the chairman of the board title should go to an independent director (39 percent) or the chief executive officer (25 percent), although many say they do not know (28 percent).
About a third (32 percent) say Sarbanes-Oxley has been effective at improving the transparency of financial information at public companies, while about one-quarter (24 percent) say that it has not been effective. Twenty-one percent say that Sarbanes-Oxley has been effective at improving boards of directors’ ability to manage executive compensation, and 35 percent say it has not been effective. In both cases, large minorities (44 percent each) are not sure about the effectiveness of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
“The increase in activist investment behavior may be a reflection of the combination of placing responsibility for corporate governance on the board of directors and the lack of trust in company financial information,” says Robert Fronk, Senior Vice President for Brand and Strategy at Harris Interactive.
“Higher income investors seem to be particularly dissatisfied with current governance efforts and the management of executive compensation and strongly encourage an independent Chairman of the Board. As these issues are more widely reported, it will be very interesting to see if these beliefs and behaviors filter into the broader investor audience.”