In August, Robinhood acquired Say Technologies, creating a platform that allows its individual investors to engage with company executives in a way that was once the exclusive domain of institutional investors. The platform could become a rallying point for environmental and social change in investing, according to an article in Barron’s that discusses the acquisition.
On the Say platform, any shareholder can ask a question during quarterly earnings calls with executives. Questions are posted on Say, and users vote on them; the questions with the most votes get answered in the meeting, giving investors with the smallest number of shares the same access as those with the largest, explains the article.
The median age of the Robinhood investor is 31; in other words, millennials. According to a recent survey, 95% of the millennial population cares about sustainable investing. The intersection of this kind of increased access to corporate executives with the socially-conscious investor could make this another powerful avenue for investor influence. Some analysts foresee earnings calls—which are less choreographed than shareholder meetings—as a place where a more meaningful exchange can be created.
Along with Say, other engagement platforms are working to overcome investor apathy, which remains a challenge. With the YourStake and OpenInvest (recently acquired by JPMorgan Chase) platforms, investors work through advisors and have access to data such as customized portfolio impact reports that explains their various exposures.
In the world of funds, where fund managers and not individual investors decide their proxy votes, shareholder engagement is probably still a ways off. The Index Funds S&P 500 Equal Weight No Load Shares polled its investors last year to ask how it should vote on proxies, but only about 100 of its shareholders actually responded.