Council of Institutional Investors

Dual-Class Stock

CII's policies endorse the principle of "one share, one vote": every share of a public company's common stock should have equal voting rights. When a company goes to the capital markets to raise money from the public, equity investors with the same residual claims should have equal protections and rights, including the right to vote in proportion to the size of their holdings. Classical principal-agent risks are exacerbated for investors when equity structures skew the alignment of ownership and voting rights, which is why the "one share, one vote" principle has been a core focus for CII since its founding in the 1980s.  

The vast majority of U.S. publicly traded companies (about 9 in 10) have a "one share, one vote" structure. Other companies typically create a superior class of common stock with more votes per share than an inferior class, with founders, their families or other insiders holding the superior class. The ratio most frequently employed is 10 votes per superior share to one vote per inferior share, although a troubling number of newly public companies have shown a fondness for even more egregious ratios and more than two classes.

A limited but increasing number of dual-class companies are choosing to go public with time-based sunset provisions incorporated into their charters. Such a provision automatically winds down the dual-class structure upon a chosen anniversary of the IPO, reducing agency risk for long-term investors. Click here for examples of a range of approaches that dual class companies have taken with temporal sunsets. In 2016 CII adopted a statement underscoring an expectation for newly public companies to respect the "one share, one vote" principle for the long-term, if necessary through sunset provisions going into effect within a reasonably limited period (e.g. three to five years). CII continues to view equal voting rights upon IPO as the optimal approach, and the overwhelming majority of U.S. IPOs indicate a consistent view. Click here for CII statistics on U.S. IPOs in 2017.

As a policy matter, "dual-class stock" broadly encompasses any equity structure providing unequal (or "weighted") voting rights, regardless of the number of share classes issued. The "dual class" debate therefore extends to triple-class companies like Snap Inc. and can extend even to unusually structured single-class companies. For example, Spotify's IPO registration statement introduced one class of ordinary shares, each entitled to one vote; but the company also granted insiders 10 "beneficiary certificates" for each ordinary share held. Each certificate provides one additional vote but no economic rights. Thus, Spotify's structure functions as de facto dual class while complying with an overly-narrow definition of "one-share, one-vote." CII believes the appropriate test for "one share, one vote" is whether the structure results in all shareholders having voting influence that is proportionate to their economic rights.

There are formidable impediments to broadly addressing the problem of unequal voting rights. Stock exchanges could address the problem by ensuring their listing standards bar companies with dual-class structures. U.S. exchanges that permit dual-class listings have declined to act, while some non-U.S. exchnages with long-standing "one share, one vote" requirements have shown signs of yielding to "race to the bottom" pressure. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lacks statutory authority to force exchanges to curb unequal voting rights of listed companies. A federal suit brought decades ago by the Business Roundtable established judicial precedent against the SEC taking action.  

That is why CII and many institutional investors have looked to index providers to discourage dual-class structures. Following Snap Inc.’s 2017 IPO with non-voting shares and requests by CII and other concerned investor groups, three major index providers opened public consultations on their treatment of no-vote and multi-class structures. The FTSE Russell consultation resulted in a decision to exclude past and future developed market constituents whose free float constitutes less than 5 percent of total voting power. S&P Dow Jones' consultation resulted in a broader, but only forward-looking exclusion, which bars the addition of multi-class constituents to the S&P Composite 1500 index and its components, covering the S&P 500, MidCap 400 and SmallCap 600 indexes. MSCI temporarily barred new multi-class listings from its ACWI Investable Market Index and US Investable Market 2500 Index. On Jan. 31, 2018 MSCI released an expanded consultation along with a discussion paper endorsing a system that would reduce the weight of multi-class listings in MSCI indexes, using free float and voting power as factors. 
Mar. 21, 2018 Kim, Michaely: Sticking Around too Long? Dynamics of the Benefits of Dual-Class Structures
Mar. 21, 2018 Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton: Low Vote Share Debate Heats Up 
Feb. 7., 2018 Working paper: Cremers, Lauterback and Pajuste: The Life-Cycle of Dual Class Firms
Jan. 22, 2018 Bloomberg QuickTake: Dual Class Shares
Dec. 7, 2017 Dual Class Discussion Draft: Investor as Owner Subcommittee of SEC Investor Advisory Committee
Nov. 2017 Hunton & Williams overview of legal rights with nonvoting common stock 
Aug. 1, 2017 Andrew Winden: Sunrise, Sunset: An Empirical and Theoretical Assessment of Dual-Class Stock Structures
May 10, 2017 CII: Does Multi-Class Stock Enhance Firm Performance?
Executive Summary | Full Study
April 18, 2017 Lucian Bebchuk and Kobi Kastiel: The Untenable Case for Perpetual Dual-Class Stock
April 10, 2017 CII Podcast: Why Indexes Should Say "No" to Non-Voting Shares
March 22, 2018 CII letter to Hong Kong Stock Exchange
Feb. 27, 2018 CII letter to Dropbox
Oct. 20, 2017 CII letter to Stitch Fix
Oct. 18, 2017 CII letter to MongoDB
Oct. 6, 2017 CII letter to Switch
Sept. 13, 2017 CII letter to Roku 
August 4, 2017 CII letter to Hong Kong on New Board concept paper
August 3, 2017 CII to MSCI responding to consultation on the treatment of no-vote shares
June 20, 2017 CII letter to Blue Apron
April 27, 2017 CII submission to S&P Down Jones consultation on no-vote shares 
Mar. 29, 2017 CII letter to Singapore Stock Exchange on preserving one share, one, vote listing standard
Mar. 29, 2017 CII letter to MSCI requesting public consultation on index eligibility of dual-class companies 
Mar. 24, 2017 CII letter to FTSE/Russell requesting public consultation on index eligibitliy of dual-class companies
Mar. 9, 2017 Testimony before the SEC Investor Advisory Committee on Snap
Feb. 3, 2017 CII letter to Snap
Aug. 20, 2014 CII letter to Swift Transportation on shareowner proposal calling for one share, one vote
Aug. 12, 2014 CII letters to Cablevision SystemsDonegal GroupFacebookFordGoogle and Spirit AeroSystems on shareowner proposals calling for one share, one vote
March 27, 2014 CII letter to NYSE requesting one share, one vote listing standard
March 27, 2014 CII letter to NASDAQ requesting one share, one vote listing standard
March 27, 2014 CII letter to the London Stock Exchange on preserving one share, one vote listing standard
March 27, 2014 CII letter to the Hong Kong Exchange on preserving one share, one vote listing standard
Dec. 10, 2012 CII follow-up letter to NYSE meeting
Oct. 2, 2012 CII letter to NYSE requesting one share, one vote listing standard
Oct. 2, 2012 CII letter to Nasdaq requesting one share, one vote listing standard

Download CII's 2018 List of Dual-Class Companies
Download CII's List of Companies with Time-Based Sunset Approaches to Dual-Class Stock
Download CII's 2017 IPO Statistics
The Rise of No-Vote Shares
A growing number of companies are adopting triple-class share structures that include a separate class of stock that offers shareholders no voting rights at all. Snap Inc. was the first company in recent years to make its initial public offering (IPO) with just non-voting shares. Other young companies, including Blue Apron and Altice USA, went public with triple-class capital structures that include a class of non-voting stock in reserve.
No-vote shares are a full-scale repudiation of the “one share, one vote” principle that is core to good corporate governance. Though such shares legally are equities, they function more like subordinated partnership units; holders get a stake in the returns, whether positive or negative, but little else. Non-voting shares rob shareholders of the means to hold management and boards accountable. They amount to a perpetual-control device that lets founders hang onto 100% of their power over the company even as their economic stake shrinks. Yet many investors who use indexing strategies will indirectly invest in Snap and any other company that issues non-voting shares if major index providers include these share classes in their indexes.
CII and many investors believe no-vote shares have no place in public companies. CII continues to advocate for listing standards that promote the “one share, one vote” principle at U.S. and non-U.S. exchanges. To learn more, listen the CII podcast.