The Bottom Line / Pia the warrior institutional
Israel Securities Authority investigations of suspicions that Bank Leumi gave biased advise to customers by inducing them to invest in its own managed mutual funds did not benefit Leumi Pia's group of mutuals.
Israel Securities Authority investigations of suspicions that Bank Leumi gave biased advise to customers by inducing them to invest in its own managed mutual funds did not benefit Leumi Pia's group of mutuals. Aggressive marketing of one of Pia's mutuals was the trigger behind the uproar.
The suspicions relate to Bank Leumi, not to Pia. It is the bank that must adhere to the Consultancy Law, not its mutual fund company. The damage done to Pia's good name is not minor, which is a shame, since for years Pia has stood out as one of the most honest institutionals in Israel's capital market with regard to guarding investors' rights.
A recent example was just this Tuesday, when Pia objected to approving lavish employment terms for Nochi Dankner and his two partners in controling the IDB group. Many institutionals heatedly objected, but bowed to the pressure of the powerful IDB group and supported the agreements. Only a few, most notably Pia, voted nay (and lost).
Pia's opposition was remarkable. Pia is also remarkable in that it usually does not settle for raising a languid hand at any given company's shareholders assembly. It continues the good fight outside the assembly hall, when the final decision opposes that of the institutionals.
Very few institutionals are prepared to invest that kind of effort. But Pia is and it can boast a record number of lawsuits against companies.
It began more than 10 years ago, when Pia led the legal battle against Zion Cable. That ruling set a precedent for the unification of shareholders equity.
In more recent years, Pia was the living, fire-breathing spirit behind improving the terms for creditors in the Gibor Sport Holdings arrangement. It spearheaded the liquidation of Rogosin, and led the charge against Hayl Holdings of the Peled-Givony group regarding Mashav Initiation options. Pia also fought against the management fees charged by publicly traded venture capital funds, and was involved in forcing EIS to compensate its shareholders. And that is not the end of the list.
What are Pia's guiding principles? Opposing employment contracts with retroactive benefits, supporting linkage of remuneration to profit increases and not to absolute profit ("What good does it do us if the manager gets a percent of profits if profits are sliding?" asks Pia manager Michael Civier), opposing employment contracts unlimited in time, and primarily forcing the companies to consult with the institutionals before advancing controversial proposals. Civier believes these principles did well in the battle against IDB.
True, Pia lost that one. The IDB agreements went ahead. "But the positions we took and the well-publicized battle mean that the next time, they and others will think twice," Civier says.
It isn't easy for an institutional investor to spearhead a legal battle. It requires considerable investment of time and money, and contributes nothing directly to the investment portfolio, therefore, it does little to improve the institutional's good name or to recruit new investors.
But over time, these are the very battles that improve the integrity of the capital market as a whole and the yields to the public. From that perspective, Pia is among the investment managers providing the best service to customers.