Frenemies: How do financial firms vote on their own kind?



Financial firms are of vital importance to the economy, yet the recent financial crisis has led many to question the quality of their governance.  As the majority of financial firms’ shares are held by other financial institutions, financial firms’ governance is largely administered by other members of the same industry and thus possibly undermined by conflicts of interest.  Specifically, when the investee’s area of activity is close to that of the investing institution, firm-level and personal considerations are particularly likely to influence stewardship of the shareholdings at the expense of fiduciary duty to clients.  To investigate this possibility, we scrutinize the aspect of the financial industry’s self-governance that is directly observable: mutual funds’ voting in their peers’ stock.  We find that considerations specific to investee firms’ membership in the same industry as their investors do indeed impact voting.  This impact is generally in the direction of supporting the investee’s management.  We extend our analysis to other financial companies and show that they also tend to vote more favorably when it comes to their own industry members. Our results suggest that peer support may be a corrupting factor in the finance industry’s governance.

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