08/02/2017 11:20 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 02:16 GMT

Church Of England Investors Warn Firms Over Fat Cat Pay Deals

The Church of England, which is one of the UK's largest investors, has sent out a warning shot to company bosses over fat cat pay deals amid a fresh shareholder push to rein in executive rewards.

The Church Investors Group (CIG), whose members manage more than £17 billion of assets, has written to the 350 biggest companies on the London stock market stressing that it will vote against excessive pay deals.

It follows a flurry of similar recent warnings by major institutional investors ahead of what is set to be an eventful AGM shareholder meeting season this year, with nearly half of FTSE 100 firms facing binding votes on pay.

Last year saw a raft of blue chips suffer embarrassing shareholder defeats over pay plans, but votes were only advisory and not binding - which is set to change this year.

The CIG - whose members invest in a vast array of firms including blue chips BP, HSBC and Vodafone - said it voted against nearly two-thirds of company remuneration reports last year.

Adam Matthews, head of engagement for the Church Commissioners and Church of England Pensions Board, said: "Last year saw a number of high-profile votes going against board recommendations and we expect this issue to continue to be high on shareholders' agenda in the 2017 voting season.

"It is vital that companies exercise judgment when recommending executive remuneration packages to shareholders."

The CIG, whose members include the Church of England, has 58 related charities and groups.

It used its letter to outline its stance on issues including executive pay, gender diversity, climate change and wider corporate governance best practice.

Stephen Beer, chief investment officer of the central finance board of the Methodist Church, said: "Church investors have long sought to address excessive executive pay.

"Through the letter we have reminded companies of our concerns and asked for further information about how internal pay differentials are monitored and incorporated into executive pay policies."

SVM Asset Management said earlier this week that 2017 was set to be the "year for change" on executive pay.

It is understood that a group of fund managers agreed during a meeting last month to work together to tackle excessive executive pay.

Aberdeen Asset Management, Investec Asset Management, Standard Life Investments and M&G Investments are said to be among the 13 firms joining forces to address the issue.

It comes after recent figures showed pay for FTSE 100 chief executives soared from an average of £1 million in 1998 to £4.3 million in 2015, far outstripping the growth in average earnings.