Vanguard’s approach to corporate governance

Vanguard's core purpose is "To take a stand for all investors, treat them fairly and give them the best chance for investment success." Consistent with that mission, Vanguard strives to make sure the companies our funds invest in are subject to the highest standards of corporate governance.

Because our funds typically own the equities of companies for long periods of time (and in the case of index funds are practically permanent holders of companies), we believe it is important to ensure that these companies' governance and executive compensation practices support the creation of long-term value for investors. Our advocacy on this front is driven by our governance and compensation principles, which are described in a related section. (See link below.) The most visible sign of Vanguard's advocacy is our funds' proxy voting at shareholder meetings. We have an experienced team of analysts that independently evaluates each proposal and casts our funds' votes in accordance with the funds' voting guidelines.

However, voting by its nature reduces sometimes complex issues to a binary choice — "for" or "against" a particular proposal — making it a rather blunt instrument. In contrast, our engagement with the directors and managers of the companies in which we invest provides us with the opportunity to target feedback and messaging more precisely than does voting alone. So while voting is visible, we think voting tells only part of the story.

We believe our active engagement demonstrates that passive investors don't need to be passive owners. In fact, our involvement in hundreds of direct discussions every year has taught us that we can accomplish as much — if not more — through dialogue than through voting alone. Through engagement, we're able to put issues on the table for discussion that aren't on the proxy ballot. In essence, we continually strive to provide constructive input that will, in our view, better position companies to deliver sustainable value over the long term for all investors.


Vanguard's proxy voting guidelines

 Proxy voting report

The Board of Directors (the "Board") of Vanguard® Investments Australia Ltd has adopted proxy voting procedures and guidelines to govern proxy voting in companies where Vanguard's managed investment schemes ('funds') have a significant economic interest. This Policy applies both to votes relating to domestic equities, as well as to international equities. The Board has delegated oversight of proxy voting to the Proxy Oversight Committee (the "Committee"), and subject to the procedures and guidelines described below. Aggregate voting results are published on the Vanguard Australia website. Clients operating separate accounts may make arrangements for Vanguard to vote proxies for those portfolios, in accordance with Vanguard policies.

The overarching objective in voting is simple: to support proposals and director nominees that maximise the value of a fund's investments - and those of fund unitholders - over the long term. While the goal is simple, the proposals the funds consider are varied and frequently complex. As such, the guidelines provide a rigorous framework for assessing each proposal. Under the guidelines, each proposal must be evaluated on its merits, based on the particular facts and circumstances as presented.

For ease of reference, the procedures and guidelines often refer to all funds, however, our policies and practices seek to ensure that proxy voting decisions are suitable for individual funds. For most proxy proposals, particularly those involving corporate governance, the evaluation will result in the same position being taken across all of the funds and the funds voting as a block. In some cases, however, funds may vote differently, depending upon the nature and objective of each fund, the composition of its portfolio, and other factors.

Because many factors bear on each decision, the guidelines incorporate factors the Committee should consider in each voting decision. A fund may refrain from voting some or all of its shares if doing so would be in the fund's and its unitholders' best interests. These circumstances may arise, for example, when the expected cost of voting exceeds the expected benefits of voting, when exercising the vote results in the imposition of trading or other restrictions, or if a fund (or all Vanguard advised funds in the aggregate) were to own more than a maximum percentage of a company's stock (as determined by the company's governing documents or by applicable law, regulation or regulatory agreement).

In evaluating proxy proposals, we consider information from many sources, including but not limited to, the Portfolio Manager for the fund, management or shareholders of a company presenting a proposal, and independent proxy research services. We will give substantial weight to the recommendations of the company's board, absent guidelines or other specific facts that would support a vote against management. In all cases, however, the ultimate decision rests with the members of the Committee, who are accountable to the Board.

While serving as a framework, the following guidelines cannot contemplate all possible proposals with which a fund may be presented. In the absence of a specific guideline for a particular proposal (e.g., in the case of a transactional issue or contested proxy), the Committee will evaluate the issue and cast the fund's vote in a manner that, in the Committee's view, will maximise the value of the fund's investment, subject to the individual circumstances of the fund.

The board of directors

Election of directors

Good governance starts with a majority-independent board, whose key committees are comprised entirely of independent directors. As such, companies should attest to the independence of directors who serve on the Remuneration, Nomination, and Audit committees. In any instance in which a director is not categorically independent, the basis for the independence determination should be clearly explained by the company.While the funds will generally support the board's nominees, the following factors will be taken into account in determining each fund's vote:

Factors for approval

  • Nominations results in board comprised of a majority of independent directors.
  • All members of audit, nomination, and remuneration committees are independent of management.

Factors against approval

  • Nominations results in board comprised of a majority of non-independent directors.
  • Audit, nomination, and/or remuneration committees include non-independent members.
  • Incumbent board member failed to attend at least 75% of meetings in the previous year.
  • Actions of committees on which nominee serves are inconsistent with other guidelines (e.g., excessive option grants, substantial non-audit fees, lack of board independence).

Contested director elections

In the case of contested board elections, we will evaluate the nominees' qualifications and the performance of the incumbent board, as well as the rationale behind the dissidents' campaign to determine the outcome that we believe will maximise shareholder value.

Classified boards

In relation to companies in non-Australian markets where classified boards are permitted, the funds will generally support proposals to declassify existing boards (whether proposed by management or shareholders) and will block efforts by companies to adopt classified board structures, in which only part of the board is elected each year.

Approval of independent auditors

The relationship between the company and its auditors should be limited primarily to the audit, although it may include certain closely related activities that do not, in the aggregate, raise any appearance of impaired independence. The funds will generally support management's recommendation for the ratification of the auditor except in instances where audit and audit-related fees make up less than 50% of the total fees paid by the company to the audit firm. We will evaluate on a case-by-case basis instances in which the audit firm has a substantial non-audit relationship with the company (regardless of its size relative to the audit fee) to determine whether independence has been compromised.

Remuneration issues

Stock-based remuneration plans

Appropriately designed stock-based remuneration plans, administered by an independent committee of the board and approved by shareholders, can be an effective way to align the interests of long-term shareholders and the interests of management, employees, and directors. Conversely, the funds oppose plans that substantially dilute their ownership interest in the company, provide participants with excessive awards, or have inherently objectionable structural features.

An independent remuneration committee should have significant latitude to deliver varied remuneration to motivate the company's employees. However, we will evaluate remuneration proposals in the context of several factors (a company's industry, market capitalisation, competitors for talent, etc.) to determine whether a particular plan or proposal balances the perspectives of employees and the company's other shareholders. We will evaluate each proposal on a case-by-case basis, taking all material facts and circumstances into account.

The following factors will be among those considered in evaluating these proposals:

Factors for approval

  • Company requires senior executives to hold a minimum amount of company stock (frequently expressed as a multiple of salary).
  • Company requires stock acquired through option exercise to be held for a certain period of time.
  • Remuneration program includes performance-vesting awards, indexed options, or other performance-linked grants.
  • Concentration of option grants to senior executives is limited (indicating that the plan is very broad-based).
  • Stock-based remuneration is clearly used as a substitute for cash in delivering market-competitive total pay.

Factors against approval

  • High total potential dilution (including all stock-based plans).
  • Excessive annual option grants.
  • Plan permits repricing or replacement of options without shareholder approval.
  • Plan provides for the issuance of reload options.
  • Plan contains automatic share replenishment ("evergreen") feature.

Bonus plans

Bonus plans should have clearly defined performance criteria and maximum awards expressed in dollars. Bonus plans with awards that are excessive in both absolute terms and relative to a comparative group generally will not be supported.

Employee stock purchase plans

The funds will generally support the use of employee stock purchase plans to increase company stock ownership by employees provided that shares purchased under the plan are acquired for no less than 85% of their market value and that shares reserved under the plan comprise less than 5% of the outstanding shares.

Executive severance agreements ("golden parachutes")

While executives' incentives for continued employment should be more significant than severance benefits, there are instances - particularly in the event of a change in control - in which severance arrangements may be appropriate. Severance benefits triggered by a change in control that do not exceed three times an executive's salary and bonus may generally be approved by the remuneration committee of the board without submission to shareholders. Any such arrangement under which the beneficiary receives more than three times salary and bonus - or where severance is guaranteed absent a change in control - should be submitted for shareholder approval.

Local nuances and laws will be considered in making decisions in relation to resolutions regarding executive remuneration.

Corporate structure and shareholder rights

We believe that shareholders' say in important matters should be proportional to their ownership interest in a company. A simple majority of shares outstanding should be sufficient to approve virtually any matter subject to shareholder approval. Companies should not create classes of stock that disproportionately give one class more votes per share than the common share class.

We believe that shareholder value is generally maximised when the market for corporate control is permitted to function freely. For example, in the U.S. classified boards, poison pills, and other takeover defences, particularly in combination with one another, are generally at odds with this perspective. While we appreciate that these measures may enhance the board's negotiating leverage in certain instances, we are concerned with their potential to reduce board accountability. Accordingly, we believe that these provisions should be minimised, and to the extent they are used - particularly poison pills - they should be subject to shareholder approval.

We will support motions that shareholder votes be by poll.

The integrity of the voting process is enhanced substantially when shareholders (both institutions and individuals) can vote without fear of coercion or retribution based on their votes. As such, the funds support proposals to provide confidential voting.

The funds are opposed to dual-class capitalisation structures that provide disparate voting rights to different groups of shareholders with similar economic investments. As such, the funds will oppose the creation of separate classes with different voting rights and will support the dissolution of such classes.

Corporate and social policy issues

While shareholder resolutions are rare in Australia, this section is very relevant to our international equities funds. Proposals in this category, initiated primarily by shareholders, typically request that the company disclose or amend certain business practices. The Board generally believes that these are "ordinary business matters" that are primarily the responsibility of management and should be evaluated and approved solely by the corporation's board of directors. Often, proposals may address concerns with which the Board philosophically agrees, but absent a compelling economic impact on shareholder value, the funds will typically abstain from voting on these proposals (except in those cases where abstentions do not count as votes cast, in which case we would typically vote against). This reflects the belief that regardless of our philosophical perspective on the issue, these decisions should be the province of company management unless they have a significant, tangible impact on the value of a fund's investment and management is not responsive to the matter.

Vanguard understands that people have a wide variety of deeply felt humanitarian, ethical, environmental, and social concerns, and that some may want to see their beliefs reflected in their investments.

As a responsible entity, Vanguard is required to manage our funds in the best interests of unitholders and is obliged to maximise returns in order to help unitholders meet their financial goals. It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill these obligations while managing portfolios that reflect the social concerns.

Voting in international markets

Corporate governance standards, disclosure requirements, and voting mechanics vary greatly among the markets outside Australia in which the funds may invest. Each fund's votes will be used, where applicable, to advocate for improvements in governance and disclosure by each fund's portfolio companies. We will evaluate issues presented to shareholders for each fund's international holdings in the context of the guidelines described above, as well as local market standards and best practices. The funds will cast their votes in a manner believed to be philosophically consistent with these guidelines, while taking into account differing practices by market. In addition, there may be instances in which the funds elect not to vote, as described below.

Many international markets require that securities be blocked or reregistered to vote at a company's meeting. Absent an issue of compelling economic importance, we will generally not subject the fund to the loss of liquidity imposed by these requirements.

The costs of voting (e.g., custodian fees, vote agency fees) in international markets may be substantially higher than for Australian holdings. As such, the fund may limit its voting on international holdings in instances where the issues presented are unlikely to have a material impact on shareholder value..

Voting shares of a company that has an ownership limitation

Certain companies have provisions in their governing documents that restrict stock ownership in excess of a specified limit. The ownership limit may be applied at the individual fund level or across all Vanguard-advised funds. Typically, these ownership restrictions are included in the governing documents of real estate investment trusts, but may be included in other companies' governing documents.

A company's governing documents normally allow the company to grant a waiver of these ownership limits, which allows a fund (or all Vanguard-advised funds) to exceed the stated ownership limit. Sometimes the company will grant a waiver without restriction. From time to time, a company may grant a waiver only if a fund (or funds) agrees to not vote the company's shares in excess of the specified limit. In such a circumstance, a fund may refrain from voting shares if owning the shares beyond the company's specified limit is in the best interests of the fund and its unitholders.

There may also be applicable laws, regulations or regulatory agreements that restrict stock ownership in certain companies in excess of a specified limit. In any of these circumstances, the fund may refrain from voting shares beyond the specified maximum or may vote in a particular way (e.g. mirror vote shares in accordance with the company's entire shareholder base) because of an agreement with a regulatory authority (e.g. the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System) that allows the fund to own shares above the applicable limit.

The Board may review these procedures and guidelines and modify them from time to time.

Policy overview

At Vanguard, our core purpose is to take a stand for all investors, treat them fairly and give them the best chance for investment success. To guide us in this mission, we rely on our core values of integrity, focus and stewardship in every decision we make. Vanguard's ownership structure in the United States means integrity is foundational to our character as an organisation. The Vanguard Group is owned by Vanguard's US-domiciled funds. Those funds, in turn, are owned by their investors. This unique mutual structure aligns our interests with those of our investors and drives the culture, philosophy and policies throughout the Vanguard organisation worldwide. Our long-term perspective and disciplined approach to investing puts our focus squarely on clients and the sustainable value of their investments. Our stewardship is reflected in a commitment to keep costs low and to protect our clients from undue risk. We believe responsible investment is inherently part of Vanguard's culture and is consistent with our fiduciary duty to manage investments in the best interest of clients.

Vanguard supports responsible investment by:

  • Voting in support of proxy proposals that, in our view, will improve our clients' long-term investing outcomes.
  • Advocating for responsible corporate governance, particularly with the companies in which we invest, as a driver of long-term value creation.
  • Acting on material environmental, social and governance (ESG) opportunities or risks in our investments.

Proxy voting

The most visible sign of Vanguard's engaged ownership is our funds' proxy voting at shareholder meetings. We have an experienced group of analysts on our Corporate Governance team that evaluates proposals and casts our funds' votes in accordance with our voting guidelines. Our guidelines are designed to promote long-term shareholder value by supporting good corporate governance practices. They frame the analysis of each proxy proposal, providing a basis for decision-making. In evaluating votes, the Corporate Governance team may consider information from many sources, including company management, shareholder groups and various research and data resources. We periodically review our voting guidelines to consider further developments in governance standards or risks to long-term shareholder value.

Advocating through engagement

Our funds typically hold companies' stock for long periods of time, and in the case of index funds, we are near-permanent investors. We believe good corporate governance is key to helping these companies maximise returns over time, and we view effective management of environmental and social risks as an integrated component of good corporate governance practices. Significant analysis and effort are put into discussions with the directors and managers of the companies in which we invest; the level and frequency of these discussions may be influenced by the material impact to our funds and the contentiousness of the issue. We believe these engagements, more so than voting, provide an opportunity to fully understand issues and target feedback and messaging to companies.

We characterise our approach as "quiet diplomacy focused on results" – providing constructive input that will, in our view, better position companies to deliver sustainable value over the long term for all investors.

We have a well-established process for identifying governance risks in our portfolio companies. Our key areas of focus for engagement include:

  • A well-composed, independent, capable and experienced board.
  • Governance structures that empower shareholders.
  • Sensible compensation that incentivises long-term performance.

Furthermore, Vanguard promotes good corporate governance and responsible investment through thoughtful participation in industry events and discussions where we can expand our advocacy and enhance our understanding of investment issues. We also engage with index providers to understand the methodology, construction and maintenance of various equity indices. Finally, we actively contribute to the development of regulatory policy with other market stakeholders to raise standards and promote best practices around the globe.

Acting on ESG opportunities and risks in our investments

Fixed Income Group

Our actively managed fixed income mandates are supported by a global team of credit analysts that develops independent risk assessments and investment opinions for each fixed income issuer. The team seeks to understand the material implications of ESG risk as part of an overall independent risk assessment and to determine whether or not market pricing adequately reflects those risks. Focus is placed on consistently applying an ESG integration framework to our investment decision-making process and working with issuers to better understand risks and how improvements can be made to address them.

Equity Investment Group

The majority of our global investments, including most of our equity mandates, seek to track an index. Index providers determine the benchmark constituents, which may not take into account ESG risk when selecting or retaining investments. Our global product line-up includes a number of funds designed to track indices that exclude companies that do not meet social responsibility criteria specified by the index provider.

Portfolio Review

The Portfolio Review team is responsible for the ongoing oversight of our external managers, as many of our active funds use external advisers to manage investments. The team's manager search and oversight process focuses on understanding the drivers of investment performance and a firm's ability to sustain investment success over the long term. Multiple inputs are considered when assessing an investment manager, including the firm's culture, ethics and stability; the skill and depth of the investment team; the investment philosophy and process; and the firm's ability to implement its investment process while managing risk effectively. The team engages with our external investment managers periodically to review their practices to better understand how ESG factors inform the investment process. Additionally, we retain documentation of each manager's responsible investment or ESG policy to help monitor improvements, developments and changes over time.

Oversight and disclosure

The integration of ESG in Vanguard's investment and engaged ownership practices is currently overseen by the Proxy Oversight Committee, which consists of our chief executive officer and select senior officers of Vanguard. Day-to-day management of ESG integration is supported by a cross-functional team representing those groups that regularly evaluate and address environmental, social and governance risks across our product line-up.

Ongoing review of policies and practices

We will continue to adapt and evolve our approach to responsible investment as we uncover new risks and issues affecting our investments. Our policy, and other departmental guidelines and practices, will be revisited on a regular basis. Any updates will be disclosed on Vanguard's external website and through other relevant channels.

Principles of Internal Governance and Asset Stewardship

Ethical conduct and professional practice

Vanguard has a global Code of Ethics policy (“Code”) that applies to all employees. This includes related policies that deal with gifts and entertainment, outside business activities and insider trading.

The Code sets out guidelines, including the requirement for approval by the Legal & Compliance department, for employees wishing to undertake certain outside business activities, such as appointments to external organisations. There are certain activities that are specifically prohibited.

All employees are subject to the Insider Trading Policy which prohibits employees from communicating to internal or external parties any material non-public information about any security or issuer of securities.

All employees must provide an annual certification that they have complied with the Code of Ethics policy.

Personal trading

Vanguard's Code sets out the requirements in respect of personal trading. This includes employees designated as “access persons” (those who have access to client portfolio or trading information) to pre-clear personal trades (including those of family members) with the Compliance team prior to execution and for broker statements to be provided after every personal trade.

Management of conflicts of interest to ensure client interests take priority

Vanguard has an obligation to do all things necessary to ensure we provides financial services efficiently, honestly and fairly. Should a conflict of interest arise, it will be dealt with appropriately based on the individual facts and circumstances surrounding the particular conflict situation, as per the requirements of Vanguard Conflicts of Interest Policy.

Vanguard's Gifts and Entertainment Policy sets out guidelines in respect of giving and receiving gifts and entertainment. There are reporting requirements for all employees and pre-approvals required subject to certain value thresholds.

Risk management and compliance

Vanguard is committed to a risk framework which, through a series of concepts, values and practices supports the proactive identification and assessment of risk, and uses this information to inform decision making and develop sustainable mitigation strategies.

Vanguard takes a holistic view of risk across its operations, encompassing market risk, credit risk, liquidity risk, operational risk, strategic risk and reputational risk. The advantage of this approach is that it allows management to take an enterprise-wide view when evaluating risks to the business and to effectively prioritise risk mitigation activities.

Vanguard uses three lines of defence to protect the organisation from financial loss and reputational damage associated with not proactively managing its risks. It also has a robust governance structure that provides effective oversight.

Error correction policy

Vanguard's Breaches & Incidents Policy cover the roles and responsibilities to the identification, management, rectification and reporting of issues that have an actual or potential adverse impacts to our funds and/or clients.

All compliance breaches or suspected breaches must be reported to the Compliance team. The Compliance team ensures that rectification is timely and appropriate, issues are reported to clients when necessary, and that processes are improved or revised if necessary to prevent issues from reoccurring. Where required, breaches are reported to the auditors and the relevant regulators, and to an external compliance committee.

Soft commissions and soft dollar brokerage

It is Vanguard's strict practice to not enter into any soft-dollar arrangements with counterparties.

Equitable asset valuation and pricing

Vanguard's Unit Pricing Policy provide guidance on the practices that relate to the different functions that contribute to the unit pricing process. The Policy is designed to comply with Industry guidelines such as the ASIC and APRA Unit Pricing Guide to Good Practice and the relevant FSC (Financial Services Council) standards.

Assets and liabilities valuation and pricing methodology focuses on recent actual market prices of listed securities. When market price is unavailable, a fair value of the asset is determined using similar or economically-related assets using the most recent reliable market price adjusted by the relevant index movement since the date of the most recent reliable market price.

Best execution and trade allocation

Vanguard's policy is to take all reasonable steps to obtain the best possible results for its clients when executing transactions. Our traders consider price, cost, speed, likelihood of execution and settlement, size, market impact, nature or any other consideration relevant to the execution of an order and selecting counterparties; as determined by trading policies.

It is Vanguard's policy to treat all clients fairly and not favour one account over another. To that end, Vanguard will allocate investment opportunities and transactions it identifies as being appropriate and prudent for its clients, including initial public offerings and other investment opportunities that might have a limited supply, among its clients on a fair and equitable basis. We prohibit any allocation of trades in a manner such that any particular client account or group of client accounts systematically receives more favourable treatment than other client accounts or that would result in any client being defrauded or the front running of investments. This applies to both purchase and sale transactions.

Remuneration policy

Vanguard's compensation practices are aligned to a ‘pay-for-performance' philosophy and have been designed to reward performance that is consistently of a high standard and serves the best interests of our clients. All employees are subject to a common grade structure that allows the firm to align performance management across similar, but not identical roles. Individual merit and bonus allocations are then tied to common leadership standards, some of which include risk and/or control expectations, which are assessed as part of the annual performance management process. Vanguard ensures that the incentive schemes themselves are not structured in a manner so as to promote inappropriate risk taking by employees.

Whistle-blower protection policy

Vanguard makes available a variety of communication channels for employees to bring matters of concern to the attention of the Vanguard management and/or Board. Through the Vanguard Global Code of Ethics and Fraud Control policies, Vanguard has taken steps to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to facilitate fair and thorough investigations of all reported instances of improper conduct, through either fraud investigation processes, complaints processes and/or discussions with line management or human resources contacts.

In addition to these mechanisms, Vanguard also provides a whistleblowing facility, allowing employees to report instances of suspected improper conduct or matters or concern through a mechanism that ensures that the employees making the disclosure is protected from potential reprisals or recriminatory action by persons internal or external to Vanguard.

Training and development

The ability of Vanguard to meet its corporate and regulatory objectives is dependent on the skills and capabilities of its employees.

Vanguard aspires to be an employer of choice. Vanguard is committed to employee's development and to the provision of training to enhance the skills and ability of employees to perform their role in an efficient and effective manner.

A key leadership standard expectation of all Vanguard leaders is that they will build diverse talented teams and hold employees and themselves accountable for that development. Vanguard requires employees to participate in training so they are able to competently carry out their work and to also ensure training levels are maintained to the standard required by regulation.

Complaints and dispute resolution

Vanguard is committed to delivering exceptional client service including the resolution of complaints in a fair, equitable and timely manner. Vanguard is of the view that complaints including feedback are an opportunity to continuously improve the quality of services and achieve a higher level of customer satisfaction.

The Complaints Policy details Vanguards position in handling a complaint or feedback relating to the financial services provided by Vanguard to manage clients, service providers and agents, media groups and clients who invest via a third party platform.

Vanguard will try to resolve the complaint and get back to clients as soon as possible, but in any event we will acknowledge receipt of a complaint within 2 business days and provide a final response, within 45 days of receipt.

In the event that clients are not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, they have the right to refer the matter to an external dispute resolution process the Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”).