Temasek talks up board action after StanChart shake-up

The exits of Standard Chartered's chief executive and Asia CEO were said to be the result of pressure from major shareholders including Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek.
Temasek talks up board action after StanChart shake-up

Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek underlined the importance of boardroom renewal in a strong statement delivered in response to the radical shake-up at Standard Chartered Bank, which was announced yesterday.

Temasek and Aberdeen Asset Management were reported to be among the emerging market bank's 10 leading shareholders to have been pushing for a boardroom shake-up as they grew impatient with its share performance.

The value of StanChart's stock has plunged since the start of 2014 amid slowing growth in the bank's key Asian and emerging market regions. Its shares had traded at £1,800 in March 2013, but have since fallen 47.5% to £944 yesterday in London.

Moves by the activist shareholders appear to have at least hastened - if not forced through - the departure of chief executive Peter Sands.

Sands is set to step down from the board in June and chairman Sir John Peace during 2016. Asia CEO Jaspal Bindra was the big casualty from this region. He will leave the board on April 30 and step down shortly after. Overall the bank said it would reduce its 16-strong board to 14 directors "in due course".

Standard Chartered announced yesterday that former investment banker Bill Winters would replace Sands in June, based out of London. Winters was co-CEO of JP Morgan's investment bank from 2004 to 2009. An announcement on Bindra's replacement is set to be made "in due course", the bank said.

Temasek, which owns an 18% stake in Standard Chartered, subsequently indicated it was satisfied with the board changes, saying that a CEO review and succession planning was an important responsibility for company boards.

“We note that Standard Chartered Board has embarked on an orderly CEO and management succession and transition. We welcome the thoughtful process which the board must have gone through under the leadership of chairman, Sir John Peace.

“We further note that board renewal is another critical responsibility for boards to undertake. This on-going process for board renewal must continue as the requirements and challenges facing the banking and financial sector across the world have become much more complex and onerous.”

These sentiments were echoed by Aberdeen Asset Management, which owns 11.2% of the bank. Approached for comment by AsianInvestor, the firm delivered a statement from its chief executive Martin Gilbert saying: “Bill Winters is an inspired choice and his experience with JP Morgan will be invaluable in building on Standard Chartered's strong foundations.”

Interestingly, this dramatic action comes at a time of concern in the region over the power that shareholders wield through collective action, which has led to Australian proposals to curb their activities.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) said it was aiming to clarify its guidance for investors about using collective action under the guise of improving corporate governance.

It warned that collective action could lead to behaviour in which a company was acquired inappropriately through an agreement for voting as a group.

“In our update we aim to provide guidance that facilitates investor engagement, yet honours the spirit of takeover laws,” said John Price, a full-time member (commissioner) of Asic.

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