CoEPB Puts Governance in Focus with New Director

Ex-Brunel Head of Stewardship will oversee the UK pension board’s voting and engagement activities, and seek greater disclosure from investee firms. 

The Church of England Pensions Board (CoEPB) has named Helen Price as its new Director of Governance, who expects to reinforce the role of governance in the asset owner’s engagement with investee firms. 

Price joins from Brunel Pension Partnership (BPP), where she was Head of Stewardship. She spent more than five years at BPP, where she was responsible for overseeing engagement, voting and working with the pooled local government pension scheme to integrate responsible investment.  

“We see governance as fundamentally important to the way companies operate”, Price told ESG Investor. “Environment has certainly taken the spotlight with governance sort of falling behind.” 

She said that over the last two years responsible investment, particularly stewardship, has grown and taken on a “new form”.  

The CoEPB manages around £3.2 billion (US$3.9 billion) in AuM and assists more than 42,000 individuals across 700 employers with their pensions.  

Governance goals 

During her time at BP, Price gained experience across multiple areas and was encouraged to get involved in shaping internal policies and building out new processes.  

“I’m very good at adapting to change and coming in with a perspective that is not just a business-as-usual approach,” she added. 

In her newly created role, she will work alongside Laura Hillis, Director of Climate and Environment, and Clare Richards, Director of Social in the CoEPB’s Responsible Investment team.

Price will oversee the the pensions board’s voting and engagement activities.  She will also review the CoEPB’s screening process to see whether there are any enhancements or changes that may be required. 

Some existing trends will continue, with the pensions board planing to pre-declare more votes this year. Ahead of Shell’s AGM, the CoEPB pre-declared it would vote against the oil and gas major’s chair and directors over “signals” the company may revise its climate commitments.  

“We are receiving the signals from Shell’s new chief executive of a return to the pursuit of maximising short-term returns,” said Adam Matthews, Chief Responsible Investment Officer for the CoEPB, in a LinkedIn post. 

Price added that she will be supporting her new colleagues with some of the wider initiatives that the CofEPB runs around executive remuneration and fair pay. 

In December last year, the pensions board hosted investors, regulators, FTSE 100 remuneration committee chairs and other stakeholders at a shareholder summit in a bid to address excessive executive pay.  

“I love the resources that [the CoEPB] is putting into their stewardship activities and their long-term systemic approach,” said Price. “We are really trying to take a top-down approach to affect change to deliver better, longer-term sustainable returns for our beneficiaries”.  

Price also underlined the importance of companies embedding good governance, management and clear reporting. 

Engaging on diversity 

Alongside her new role, Price will continue her work as Co-chair of the Asset Owner Diversity Charter (AODC). 

The AODC was launched in 2021 with the CoEPB as one of its founding signatories. When founded its signatories accounted for £1 trillion in AuM, with that figure currently sitting at approximately £1.7 trillion. 

The diversity charter is “fundamentally very important to me”, Price said. “It’s great knowing that I’m going into an institution that is supportive of that work and wants me to continue with it.” 

The charter is comprised of two key components. The first is the Asset Manager Diversity and Inclusion Questionnaire which targets the standardisation of complex diversity metrics beyond gender to improve on disclosures.  

The questionnaire results will feed into a progress report, which Price said is due to be launched in the next few weeks, to inform engagement on improving diversity and inclusion. 

The second component of the AODC is the Asset Owner Charter Toolkit, a supporting document to aid in the implementation of the Charter including topics such as manager monitoring and selection. 

The AODC will additionally run an open tender in the second half of this year which will look for academic partners or another institution to help take the cross-company DEI initiative to the “next level”, according to Price.  

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