ISS Probes Allegations that a Boston Employee Sold Shareholder Information

ISS, a shareholder advisory firm, has placed an employee on administrative leave following allegations that this person sold the confidential voting information of clients in exchange for gifts and cash. MCSI is the parent company of ISS, which advises large shareholders on how to vote their shares while helping them use ProxyExchange.

MSCI CEO Henry A. Fernandez says that the firm decided to conduct its own probe even though the Securities and Exchange Commission has not contacted them about this matter. In papers filed with the SEC, Fernandez noted that client information confidentiality is key to the business and is addressed not just in the ISS Regulatory Code of Ethics, but also is part of employee training.

It was on February 12 that the New York Post reported that a whistleblower complaint had been filed with the SEC accusing the Boston office employee of giving shareholder voting information to corporate boardrooms. The lawsuit claims that the employee provided the information to proxy-solicitation firms working for corporate boards that were seeking to influence the biggest shareholders on executive compensation and profitable mergers. The alleged tipster is accused of using his personal e-mail address to provide the solicitors with the confidential data up to weeks ahead of time. (For example, the Post said that for an upcoming meeting, the ISS employee provided information about upcoming votes from BlackRock and Vanguard. Both companies, however, have refused to confirm whether or not this is true due to a policy to keep voting confidential.)

A shareholder’s votes are supposed to remain private unless he/she chooses to make it known. One reason for this is that shareholders don’t want to experience retaliation in the event that they decide to vote against management. By gaining access to the votes in advance, companies can better strategize on how to get the outcome they want. Sometimes a decision can be so close that just a few votes in favor of/against can make a world of difference.

Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas LTD LLP Founder and Stockbroker Fraud Lawyer William Shepherd applauded the whistleblower complaint: “This is exactly how the new ‘Wall Street whistleblower’ law is supposed to work. Improper use of this information would almost certainly not have been reported without this law.”

According to the SEC’s Boston Regional Office, ever since new whistleblower rules were enacted last year, it has received close to seven tips a day. The office’s director, David Berger, noted that unlike in the past, these tips are “sworn… verified.” Financial statements, corporate disclosure, and market manipulation are the topics that have gotten the most tips. Although none of the whistleblowers have yet to receive their percentage of compensation from having stepped forward and notified the government of alleged wrongdoing, Berger says that this is just because not enough time has passed since the lawsuits were filed to allow for the requirements that have to be first fulfilled before the payments can go through.

Advisory firm employee leaking shareholder voting data, whistleblower claims, New York Post, February 12, 2012

Advisory firm probes charge that worker sold shareholder info, Boston Herald, February 17, 2012

More Blog Posts:
SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower Received 334 Tips During FY 2011, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 8, 2011

Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Taxpayers Were Defrauded When Federal Government Bailed Out Houston-Based American International Group in 2008, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 5, 2011

SEC is Finalizing Its Whistleblower Rules, Says Chairman Schapiro, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 28, 2011

SEC Looking at Other Ways to Communicate with Whistleblowers, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 14, 2011
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