Investment management firm TIAA-CREF Wednesday released an eight-principle plan that it said investment companies "should aspire to conform to, and which we intend to apply to other companies funds that we offer to our customers."
In a bold move, the first principle called for an at least three-fourths of a board of directors to be independent, including the chairman and that all fund boards eventually become 100% independent. Further, TIAA-CREF said that boards should regularly hold meetings without management present.
TIAA-CREF said it was making the recommendations to help funds operate for the benefit of shareholders. That echoes one of the main components of the proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission, one that has been blasted by several mutual fund firms, most notably Fidelity.
Although many of the principles such as the need to treat all investors equally and the need to disclose fund manager compensation information are closely aligned with the SECs words, TIAA-CREF was careful to say, "The principles are not a recitation of law, but rather a set of measures reflecting ways in which funds can put shareholders interests first."
Other principles called for allowing shareholders to elect their directors, funds to voluntarily stop directed-brokerage payments and be completely transparent with respect to fees, expenses and costs.
For TIAA-CREF, which operates with $300 billion in assets, the "Principles for Fund Governance and Practices," as the release was called, was not the only way to get the message out. Chairman and CEO Herbert Allison also wrote a piece in the Financial Times about his feelings.
"It is time to raise the standards for independence of fund directors to a level commensurate with the fund industry's importance to the public's financial security," Allison wrote.