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BOSTON (Reuters) - FTSE Russell will consult with big investors on whether to include companies like Snap Inc (SNAP.N) in its widely followed stock indexes even if their shares lack voting rights, an executive said.
The issue will be studied at meetings with asset managers and other clients this month, Joti Rana, Americas head of governance and policy for FTSE Russell, said in an interview on Tuesday. FTSE Russell offers popular indexes like Britain's blue-chip FTSE 100 and the Russell 3000 index of U.S. companies.
The meetings will give investors a chance to voice concerns that companies like Snapchat owner Snap, which sold $3.4 billion of non-voting shares in its initial public offering last week, are denying outside stockholders influence on matters like corporate strategy and executive pay.
Snap would benefit if it were added to major stock indexes because index portfolios managers would have to buy its shares, and other investors whose performance is tracked against such benchmarks would likely follow suit.
"If our client doesn't want non-voting shares in the index, that's something we need to seriously take on board" for consideration, Rana said.
Outcomes could be to exclude companies like Snap from indexes, or to create indexes with new corporate governance standards.
"All options are on the table," he said.
Clients of FTSE Russell, part of the London Stock Exchange Group, (LSE.L) include big fund managers like BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) and T. Rowe Price Group (TROW.O), Rana said. Their input could make the meetings a test of how far the companies will go to back up their recent focus on shareholder rights, amid concerns other companies might copy Snap's structure.
Spokespeople for BlackRock and T. Rowe Price declined to comment on the index reviews.
Another client is State Street Corp, (STT.N) Rana said. Lynn Blake, who oversees $1.4 trillion in passive equity strategies at the Boston company's State Street Global Advisors investment arm, said Snap's structure is "highly unusual" and that the trend of companies offering diminished voting rights for outside investors is "certainly a concern."
State Street's passive funds largely have not had to buy Snap because so far the company has not been included in major stock indexes, she said. But State Street will discuss with index providers their methodologies because companies like Snap should not be ignored, whatever their governance structures, she said.
"The passive philosophy is to own the market, and these companies are part of the market," Blake said.
Venice, California-based Snap faces criticism of its unprecedented decision not to grant voting rights with the Class A shares it sold in last week's offering, the biggest U.S.-listed tech IPO in three years. An investor committee that advises the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was scheduled to question Snap's transparency for investors on Thursday.
Asked about the index reviews, a Snap spokesman cited comments from the company's registration statement that the voting structure is good for investors as a way to preserve founder control. The Snap spokesman declined to comment further, citing a regulatory quiet period.
After a strong debut, shares of Snap fell earlier this week after analysts gave the company lukewarm reviews. The company has raised eyebrows on Wall Street because of its lofty valuation and slowing user growth.
Snap shares pared some of those losses and were up about 9 percent at $23.34 at midday on Wednesday.
Index providers S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI Inc have also said they are reviewing their treatment of Snap.
FTSE Russell initially planned to add Snap to indexes, but a revised analysis showed it did not meet a market capitalization requirement, Rana said. Rana said Snap will be considered for inclusion in specific indexes later this year, in addition to this month's policy meetings.
Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston. Additional reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli