BlackRock gives its customers a greater say in corporate accountability

* Covered approximately 40% of the stock index assets of $ 4.8 trillion

* Customers can vote directly at general meetings

* More investors looking to hold boards accountable

By Simon Jessop and Ross Kerber

LONDON / BOSTON, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, plans to give clients more say in voting at annual corporate meetings, starting with a group with nearly $ 2 trillion in assets.

New York-based BlackRock’s move on Thursday follows a surge in demands from shareholders to hold the companies they invest in accountable for issues ranging from climate change to diversity and how they treat their employees and those of their suppliers .

Starting next year, customers who want more control will be able to vote according to their own policy and cast their votes on their own infrastructure, BlackRock said in a letter to customers viewed by Reuters. Others could opt for a third-party voting policy and use BlackRock to submit the votes.

The option would be offered to institutional clients on some index strategies held in segregated accounts and certain pooled funds in the UK and US.

“These options are intended to give you a greater say in voting proxy, if this is important to you,” it continues.

BlackRock’s letter said the decision was the first in a series of steps to expand proxy options and followed several years of working with industrial partners as new technologies were also developed.

“It also reflects broader industry dynamics, such as the impact of advancing technology on investing – and thus the opportunity for more customized approaches to your investments and how you manage them,” she added.

Based on late June data, approximately 40% of the $ 4.8 trillion assets held in BlackRock’s stock index strategies could be eligible for either option.

Larger customers, whose assets are held in a separately managed account, also have the option of voting directly with BlackRock on which resolutions or companies to vote on.

For those who would like to stick with the existing process, BlackRock said its own investment stewardship team would continue to vote proxies on their behalf.

“While giving customers more choice in voting proxies, BlackRock Investment Stewardship (BIS) remains central to BlackRock’s fiduciary approach,” the letter said. (Reporting by Simon Jessop; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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