LONDON (Reuters) BlackRock (NYSE:BLK), the world’s biggest asset manager, said on Monday that clients owning nearly half of its $4.9 trillion in equity index assets were now free to control how votes are cast at the annual meetings of the companies in which they their funds invest.
The move marks an expansion of BlackRock's 'Voting Choice' programme, launched last October by the New York-based company, which manages around $10 trillion in assets, and which aims to offer institutional clients more say on topics that matter to them.
The programme comes during a tumultuous period for the asset manager as it faces criticism in the United States and elsewhere over the way it votes on behalf of clients on issues including climate change, diversity and executive pay.
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"While BlackRock’s Voting Choice program is an industry first, we see it as just a beginning," said Salim Ramji, Global Head of iShares and Index Investments said in a statement.
"Our ambition is to make voting choice convenient and efficient for all investors, and we are working with policymakers and industry participants around the world to extend voting choice for our clients”.
At the time of launch, clients owning around 40% of BlackRock's equity index assets through U.S. or UK segregated mandates -- where a large client's money is managed alone -- or some pooled investments were eligible for the freedom to vote their own shares at an AGM.
Going forward, the same choice would now be offered to those invested in Canadian and Irish pooled funds, and additional UK clients, such that 47% of BlackRock's equity index assets would be covered by the programme.
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Since launch, clients holding $120 billion of assets have opted to take control of the voting process, taking total assets covered by the programme, including clients in segregated mandates, to $530 billion, it said.
In a separate white paper, BlackRock said it was actively looking at ways to expand the programme to give more investors the choice, including retail investors.