is taking the lead in providing shareholder access to its proxy voting records. The firm, which saw it brand tarnished by the mispricing of its bond funds more than two years ago, said it is making the move as part of its effort to be an advocate for its shareholders. The decision to offer the information is not a response to past headlines about the firm, said Aaron Picard
, director of retail marketing and communications.
Picard added that the Web site is part of the Milwaukee-based fund firm's efforts to build relationships with its shareholders. "This is not a sales tool," he emphasized.
Whatever the motivation, the effort may be one that helps the firm burnish its brand. Though the slimmed-down and refocused Heartland no longer offers any bond funds (it advises three equity funds with $1.2 billion of assets) the losses in those funds still linger in the minds of many advisors. Taking the lead on this type of disclosure is one way to build trust.
Picard said that not only is the firm offering the information to shareholders nearly a year before it is required, it is also presenting the information in a user-friendly format. Rather than include the entire proposal as listed in the proxy, Heartland provides a brief summation of the proposal. It also provides a record of its vote and an explanation for why it voted the way it did. (To see the site follow this link
He added that the firm has interpreted the SEC's new rules as allowing for summary descriptions of the proposals rather than the complete wording. "If the SEC does require the complete proposal, then we will likely provide a link to that information," said Picard.
Heartland has been working on how to present the information for the past month and has decided to disclose all votes after December 31, 2002. It is gathering data for the site from reports generated by ProxyEdge, its existing service provider. It developed the site internally, said Picard.
The effort also points out the opportunity for firms to create good will with shareholders and advisors. How they choose to handle compliance with a rule they may not like sends a message about the firm's opinion of its customers and partners. Heartland's effort may be a model to follow.
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