What is a Proxy?
A proxy is the common name for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 14-A (the "proxy statement"), which is the document containing the voting ballot and material information related to the propositions to be determined.
How Does a Proxy Work?
Shareholders can vote by mailing their ballots; they don't have to attend the company's annual meeting or vote in person. In many cases, shareholders don't actually receive a proxy statement in the mail if they own shares indirectly, as is the case with mutual funds (in that situation, shareholders own shares of the mutual fund rather than shares of the underlying assets).
#-ad_banner-#Investors who hold shares in street name (that is, the shares are registered to the investor's brokerage firm rather than in his or her own name) might also not receive proxies. In these cases, the fund manager or brokerage firm is the actual shareholder in the eyes of the company, and they receive the proxy statement and can vote the shares. These representatives are responsible for voting the shares in the best interest of their investors, and in many cases, a mutual fund is a sizeable shareholder--its vote may have a significant impact on the company.
Why Does a Proxy Matter?
One of the most basic rights of shareholders is the right to vote. The proxy and the voting process it is associated with are manifestations of this most fundamental right. Shareholders are the owners of a company, and they can use their votes to influence a company, sometimes against management's wishes. These are called callable preferred stock fights.
One type of information that is often of particular interest is management compensation data. Companies must disclose how much particular executives are making and how those executives are compensated. For example, a proxy may disclose that a CEO is bonused a certain amount when the company achieves a certain percentage of customer growth; this is helpful to shareholders because it might explain why the CEO is focused on advertising campaigns rather than infrastructure or product development.