State Street Global Advisors believes that a well constituted board of directors with a good balance of skills, expertise, and independence provides the foundations for a well governed company. We view board quality as a measure of director independence, director succession planning, board diversity, evaluations and refreshment, and company governance practices. We vote for the election/re-election of directors on a case-by-case basis after considering various factors including board quality, general market practice, and availability of information on director skills and expertise. In principle, we believe independent directors are crucial to corporate governance and help management establish sound ESG policies and practices. A sufficiently independent board will most effectively monitor management and perform oversight functions necessary to protect shareholder interests. We expect boards of ASX 300 and New Zealand listed companies to be comprised of at least a majority of independent directors. At all other Australian listed companies, we expect boards to be comprised of at least one-third independent directors. Further, we expect boards of ASX 300 listed companies to have at least one female board member.
Our broad criteria for director independence in Australia and New Zealand include factors such as:
- Participation in related-party transactions and other business relations with the company
- Employment history with company
- Relations with controlling shareholders
- Family ties with any of the company’s advisers, directors, or senior employees
When considering the election or re-election of a director, we also consider the number of outside board directorships that a non-executive and an executive may undertake and attendance at board meetings. In addition, we monitor other factors that may influence the independence of a non-executive director, such as performance-related pay, cross-directorships, significant shareholdings, and tenure. We support the annual election of directors and encourages Australian and New Zealand companies to adopt this practice.
While we are generally supportive of having the roles of chairman and CEO separated in the Australian and New Zealand markets, we assess the division of responsibilities between chairman and CEO on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to factors such as company-specific circumstances, overall level of independence on the board and general corporate governance standards in the company. Similarly, we will monitor for circumstances in which a combined chairman/CEO is appointed or where a former CEO becomes chairman.
We may also consider board performance and directors who appear to be remiss in the performance of their oversight responsibilities when analyzing their suitability for reappointment (e.g. fraud, criminal wrongdoing and breach of fiduciary responsibilities).
We believe companies should have committees for audit, remuneration, and nomination oversight. The audit committee is responsible for monitoring the integrity of the financial statements of the company, appointing external auditors, monitoring their qualifications and independence, and their effectiveness and resource levels. ASX Corporate Governance Principles requires listed companies to have an audit committee of at least three members all of whom are non-executive directors and a majority of whom are independent directors. It also requires that the committee be chaired by an independent director who is not the chair of the board. We hold Australian and New Zealand companies to our global standards for developed financial markets by requiring that all members of the audit committee be independent directors.
In our analysis of boards, we consider whether board members have adequate skills to provide effective oversight of corporate strategy, operations, and risks, including environmental and social issues. Boards should also have a regular evaluation process in place to assess the effectiveness of the board and the skills of board members to address issues, such as emerging risks, changes to corporate strategy, and diversification of operations and geographic footprint. The nomination committee is responsible for evaluating and reviewing the balance of skills, knowledge, and experience of the board. It also ensures that adequate succession plans are in place for directors and the CEO. We may vote against the re-election of members of the nomination committee if the board has failed to address concerns over board structure or succession.
Executive pay is another important aspect of corporate governance. We believe that executive pay should be determined by the board of directors. We expect companies to have in place remuneration committees to provide independent oversight over executive pay. ASX Corporate Governance Principles requires listed companies to have a remuneration committee of at least three members all of whom are non-executive directors and a majority of whom are independent directors. Since Australia has a non-binding vote on pay with a two-strike rule requiring a board spill vote in the event of a second strike, we believe that the vote provides investors a mechanism to address concerns they may have on the quality of oversight provided by the board on remuneration issues. Accordingly, our voting guidelines accommodate local market practice.
Indemnification and limitations on liability
Generally, State Street Global Advisors supports proposals to limit directors’ liability and/or expand indemnification and liability protection up to the limit provided by law, if he or she has not acted in bad faith, gross negligence, or reckless disregard of the duties involved in the conduct of his or her office.