Discussion Forum

“Efficient Engagement” in Japan: A Sample Engagement Letter

A while back I spent some time writing an engagement letter (in both English and Japanese) that I myself would use if I was the head of governance and proxy voting at an investing institution that held positions in more than a handful of Japanese companies, and did not have enough time to meet with all of them, say, six or more times a year so as to do detailed “engagement” mainly via face-to-face meetings.   This actually includes most institutional investors, when you think about it.  I thought it might be helpful for friends of mine.

It has always seemed to me that in order for engagement to be efficient, you need to write down in detail your suggestions for companies, and send it out to them as early as you can – giving them a year or more of lead time to put new practices in place, if that is what one hopes.   Otherwise, in Japan very much gets “lost in translation”, and even less will reach the board.  Many governance practices are new in Japan, and just referring to them verbally will usually not be sufficient to fully communicate.  (As the person who proposed Japan’s corporate governance code in order for effective “stewardship” to occur, and having sat on a number of boards,  I have done a lot of thinking about this topic.)

To me, therefore, “efficient engagement” means that: a) you will send a letter or letters to the company’s board, one that will be largely or wholly standardized; but b) you may meet, or may never meet with the company, as you choose. You do not have to have multiple meetings with multiple companies, which for most investing institutions would be a very inefficient way to “engage”, particularly if little is put in writing.

2018.05.10 Seminar ‘Practical Financial Analysis for Directors ~ As taught by an experienced institutional investor ~’

What do sophisticated investors expect of directors when it comes to financial analysis of their own companies? In this seminar, an experienced equity portfolio manager and CIO will cover the basics of “accounting for value” and financial analysis that all directors in Japan should know, including:

• Challenges faced using the accounting information produced by listed Japanese companies
• Cash Flow vs Accrual Accounting and how each relates to performance and valuation
• The limitations of traditional measures of performance, value and returns such as sales growth, operating margins, PER, PBR, ROE, etc.
• Key financial metrics that investors and independent directors should use to evaluate business performance
• How to reformulate your company’s financial statements for purposes of investment and valuation
• How to use analysis to drive and support decision-making

There will be simple case studies, and time allotted to Q&A. For maximum benefit, participants may wish to read “Accounting for Value” by Stephen Penman, either before or after the course. Our speaker will be Campbell Gunn, the former country head of T. Rowe Price in Japan. Mr. Gunn is a fund manager with 30 years of broad experience in Japan equity portfolio management, during which time his teams generated returns that were consistently superior to market indices. Currently he advises PacificData, a leading provider of analytical systems and integrated financial information on Japanese companies.

Please sign up early, as we expect this to be a well-attended event. (Use the link below.)

January 25th “Director Boot Camp” …Next Course: April 10th!

BDTI’s January 25th English Director Boot Camp was a great success, with active participation by a diverse group of Japanese and European persons! Participants from various companies heard lectures about corporate governance and related topics by Nicholas Benes and Andrew Silberman of AMT, and exchanged experiences and opinions at a spacious, comfortable room kindly donated […]

APEC Report: Corporate Governance Plus Market Development

In 2016,  Europacifica Consulting delivered the case study, Financial Services Sector Reform in Japan, for inclusion in the APEC Economic Policy Report, published in November 2016.

In the case study, we argued that corporate governance was a vital area of potential structural reform in PM Abe’s economic agenda, which at the time had yet to show clear results.  Since then, there have been clear signals of improvement in corporate Japan’s balance sheets and governance practices, as well as a rise in Return on Equity among many of Japan’s largest companies.

Signals of bona fide structural reform are comforting, but we underscore the importance of another of the report’s key arguments; that Koizumi-era reforms in the financial sector did not go far enough in engendering self-sustaining financial market reforms.  Both financial reform and investor education may go further to promote households’ move “from savings to investment”, in other words, a move toward greater household participation in financial markets.

The case study may be found in Annex A of the report.  The case study was also prepublished by Columbia University’s APEC Studies Center as well (link to report).

Ministry of the Environment: January2017 ESG Working Group Report

” With the recent developments in ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) in our country, the Ministry of the Environment established a “Working Group on Incorporating Issues Regarding Sustainability into Investment” (ESG Working Group) in October 2015. Following discussion and debate over two fiscal years, the Ministry is pleased to announce that it has produced the […]

The Economist: “Environmental, societal, and…what? The craze for ethical investment has reached Japan”

The Economist has published two articles on ESG, one focusing on its expansion in Japan led by the GPIF and the other focusing on the impact of passive funds on the effectiveness of ESG investment overall. I was [accurately] quoted in the former – ” Nick Benes, who heads the Board Director Training Institute of Japan, an educational body, says he is “all for” the enthusiasm for ESG in Japan. But he frets that Japanese companies are focusing on environmental and social aspects at the expense of governance. “That is the real driver of sustainability,” says Mr Benes. “But here it’s a big, bold E and S, and a small, plain G.”

October 26th Director Boot Camp – Another Successful Program! Next Course: January 25th, 2018

  On October 26th, BDTI held its English Director Boot Camp , attended by a number of experienced participants. Participants from various companies heard lectures about corporate governance and related topics by Nicholas Benes and Andrew Silberman of AMT, and exchanged experiences and opinions at a spacious, comfortable room kindly donated for our use by […]

“Corporate Governance of Japan – Analysis and Prospects -” at BDTI Seminar held on October 2 2017

“Corporate Governance of Japan – Analysis and Prospects –” was presented at BDTI Seminar held on October 2 2017 “Corporate Governance of Japan – Analysis and Prospects -” was presented at BDT Seminar held on October 2 2017 as the update research of Corporate Governance of Japan at the BDTI Seminar in March and Goldman Sachs Securities Seminar in April 2017. The updated […]

September CG Stock Performance

CG Top 20 stocks raised its outperformance, hitting all-time high Top 20 CG Score Index continued outperformance for September 2017 in favor of stock market rally for September. CG top 20 stocks hit its all time high of June 2015 when Corporate Governance Code was launched. This would be due to a sign that an increasing number of long-term investors are coming […]