At Computershare, we’re lucky to work with excellent clients of varying sizes across all industries. We think the experience and knowledge of our clients is worth sharing with others in the industry to help companies learn additional ideas that they can use at their own company.
Recently, Karen Danielson, shareowner services manager for The Coca-Cola Company, took some time to talk to us about her history and longtime leadership role in the industry, major challenges facing issuers today and her experience working with a transfer agent.
Computershare: Give us a quick history of your work in the industry – how did you get to the place you’re at with The Coca-Cola Company?
Karen Danielson: The Coca-Cola Company has been a part of my life since I was 8 years old when my father moved us to Atlanta, from Brockton, Mass. to go to work for the company. Jump forward to my early 20s and I got a job as a Secretary in what was then called the Archives Department. When I was offered the job in the Shareowner Services group several years later I almost didn’t take it because I loved the job so much. I decided to accept the position and one thing led to another and in 2005 I was promoted to my current position.
C: What’s the primary focus of your role?
KD: While the primary focus and responsibilities for those of us who work in the industry may vary, it’s always interesting to try and explain to people what we actually do. I usually tell people I am the liaison between the shareowner and the transfer agent and responsible for the TA “partnership.” Sounds simple enough but in actuality there are SEC and NYSE rules and regulations we need to be familiar with to effectively and accurately do our job and keep management and the shareowners happy.
C: Of all the issues facing issuers, which one do you think they really need to understand the impact of and why?
KD: It concerns me that not all issuers see the value of a shareowner services position within their company. While the transfer agents are clear on the regulations and responsibilities, ultimately the issuer is responsible for their shareowner records and issuers need to realize that. Also, we all are being asked to do more with less money. Budgets are being cut and since the majority of the expenses that fall under our area of responsibility – such as listing fees and proxy fees – are regulated, it is important to work with your transfer agent and the SSA on cost-savings initiatives. We never want to sacrifice the level of service because of cost, so we all need to work together to reach our common goals.
C: With state rules changing and more shareholders getting escheated, how do you minimize The Coca Cola Company’s escheatment exposure? What advice can you give other issuers to help mitigate even more shareholders getting escheated?
KD: We do a few things that I recommend all issuers do. Take the time to review your preliminary reports. You just might know or recognize an account that’s up for escheatment. Also, run a match with employee records or at the very least, at proxy time, have your shareowner accounts that match your employee plan files coded as employee accounts. Another inexpensive option is at least once a year, enclose an informational piece with your dividend or dividend reinvestment statement that provides shareowners the facts about abandoned property and how important it is to keep in contact with the transfer agent – this has been very effective for us. Finally, consider using a search firm to find missing and dormant account holders. I would rather do everything I could to locate the shareowner before turning their property over to the state.
C: How did you initially get involved with the SSA and can you tell us about your path to higher levels or leadership?
KD: I was attending a client advisory meeting, I think it was in 2003, and the president of the SSA at the time was also there. She told me about the association and suggested I become a member. In 2007, the SSA board sent out a letter to members looking for issuers interested in a board position. Everyone at Coca-Cola gave me the support to do it and my path to the presidency took off from there. It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life.
C: With your involvement in the SSA from president to board member, what would you say is the SSA’s biggest role?
KD: Our main focus, of course, is networking, education, advocacy and career development. Transfer agents like Computershare do a good job providing information to their clients, but the SSA provides members a unique opportunity to benchmark and learn from a broad scope of issuers and service providers who are willing to share their expertise and experience. Our best event is our annual conference in July each year that provides excellent educational sessions, along with great networking opportunities (and we have some fun too).
C: Tell us what the SSA sees as the biggest issues/changes on the horizon.
KD: Three major things come to mind: cyber security, outdated regulations and unclaimed property.
A week doesn’t go by that we don’t hear about a security breach of some kind. Last fall the SSA hosted a seminar on cyber security where CTOs from the top transfer agents, as well as an insurance company rep, shared their insights on this challenging risk that is obviously here to stay. It was eye opening to say the least.
As far as the transfer agent rules and regulations go, I think we all agree they are outdated and need to be revised to reflect today’s industry practices. Based on what we are hearing from the SEC, that’s one of their concerns as well and something they are working to do. The SSA Board meets with the SEC at least once a year and we look forward to submitting comments when the time comes.
The most important thing happening right now with unclaimed property is the rewriting of the 1995 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). The SSA joined the ULC Unclaimed Property Holders Coalition to give a voice to corporate issuers and shareholders during this process.
C: On a personal note, I hear you are a big Atlanta Falcons fan and have season tickets. What are you looking forward to most about next season?
KD: We have a new coach and I’m really interested to see where this season goes. Our first home game of the regular season is a Monday night game. If you will be watching, be sure to look for me…I’ll be the one wearing red.