The future of proxies
After attempting to lay permanent claim to the best proxy statement award in the large-cap category, General Electric was honored in 2014 for its innovative use of technology, which itself demonstrates another side of the company’s proven proxy prowess.
Noticing that more investors are reading the proxy statement online – either through the company’s own proxy website or via a voting platform – instead of sifting through the printed material, General Electric decided to focus its resources on the digital proxy statement. ‘For 2014, we created an interactive proxy experience,’ says Aaron Briggs, corporate securities and finance counsel at GE. ‘When you click through the proxy summary, you can interact with the data.’
For example, an investor can examine the company’s board composition in various ways. ‘You can take different cuts showing all of our female directors or all of our directors over a certain age, or those who have a certain type of experience or who are on a certain committee, to make the proxy more usable for the reader and a more enjoyable experience,’ Briggs explains.
In addition to such interactive capabilities, GE includes numerous hyperlinks both in its SEC-filed document and on the web version of its proxy that make it easy for readers to skip to different sections or to take better advantage of the proxy cross-references that direct them to other pages in the document. There are also hyperlinks to other online governance resources related to some of GE’s proxy content, including information about the board of directors and board committees, and the company’s governance principles and other policies.
‘We’re really trying to make it one-stop shopping in the proxy, where you can click to access different content,’ Briggs says. There are also QR codes throughout the printed proxy that enable readers to access online references with a quick scan using their iPhone or iPad, he adds.
In addition, GE has started to use analytics to see how people interact with the proxy website, which sections they go to and where they drop off. The analytics are still coarse, but they’re something GE plans to refine during this year.
Working with Addison, a design company, on both the printed and online versions, GE continues to optimize the user experience across all platforms, whether on iPhone, iPad or desktop device. The company is also trying to take layered disclosures to the next level to make it easier for users to get exactly as much of the content as they want. ‘That way, it’s easy for them to get through the document in a way that’s efficient for them,’ says Briggs.
That’s truly bringing the proxy statement into the age of George Jetson.