Incentive shares: we need long-term answer to short-termism

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How long is the long term? Dominic Rossi of Fidelity Worldwide Investment has almost been a lone voice in the fund management world in arguing that directors should be forced to hold incentive shares for a lot longer than the standard three years.

He suggested a year ago that five years or more should be the norm. He called this a "practical proposal" that right-minded boards ought to be able to accept without bleating unconvincingly about the difficulty in recruiting executives from the United States.

Quite right too: if you're in the business of promoting long-term thinking in boardrooms, half a decade is a reasonable working definition. Three years heightens the risk that directors will jump on the accelerator but leave the tank empty.

Rossi also said a year ago that Fidelity would vote against any pay plan that didn't comply. Soft pressure on boards was not achieving much; it was time to use shareholders' new binding vote on pay.

Anything less than three years would get a thumbs-down during this year's season of shareholders' meetings. From 2015, the bar would be raised to five years.

For a one-man, or one-company, campaign, the results have been quietly impressive.

A year ago, only four FTSE 100 companies operated long-term incentive plans that extended to five years; now 27 do. But you'd hardly call it an outright success if there are still 73 non-conformers among the blue-chip index.

Why haven't more big-name fund managers, most of whom also hum the long-termism tune, joined privately owned Fidelity's campaign? Simple: most are in no position to complain because they, or their parent companies, don't practise five-year periods themselves.

Standard Life is an honourable exception: it is on the list of 27. But most big fund managers, or those FTSE 100 companies with fund management businesses, crowd within the second category of "more than three years but less than five years," including Friends Life, Legal & General, Old Mutual and Schroders.

As for Aberdeen, Aviva and M&G owner Prudential, they don't even make this second camp. Get with the programme, chaps, Rossi is right: three years is no time at all.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nils Pratley, for The Guardian on Thursday 3rd July 2014 19.44 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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