On September 29, 2016, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster gave the Keynote Speech at Council of Institutional Investors. Entitled "The Block Chain Plunger: Using Technology to Clean Up Proxy Plumbing and Take Back the Vote," Vice Chancellor Laster's lecture was aimed at fixing certain identified problems with the voting and stockholding infrastructure of the U.S. securities markets. First, Vice Chancellor Laster discussed how the complexities of the nominee system, centered through the Depository Trust Company (“DTC”), harm the stockholders’ ability to get appraisal of their shares. He stated that Delaware law, by implementing Article 8 of the UCC, is unhelpful to the shareholders. Specifically, Vice Chancellor Laster used an example from appraisal litigation before his Court in 2015. In Dell, stockholders sought an appraisal of their shares. However, ownership changes driven by DTC were regarded as voluntary transfers by the shareholders, and therefore, the shareholders lost standing since they did not continuously hold the records. Vice Chancellor Laster believed that this result was “absurd” since this was an example of shareholders doing what they were supposed to do, and being punished for it. It if were not for the complexities, the shareholders would have had standing.
Next, Vice Chancellor Laster discussed how the nominee system creates issues for voting. Under the current system, it is not certain that a shareholder can obtain “end-to-end” confirmation as to how its shares were voted. He used an example where T. Rowe Price was a beneficial owner of several million shares, and due to the complexities in the system and human error, was recorded as voting in favor of a merger, when in fact it had voted against the merger. This resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for T. Rowe. Further, this led to uncertainties in how stockholders actually voted. The Vice Chancellor bluntly stated “the sheer complexity of the current voting system makes precision impossible.” Lastly, Vice Chancellor Laster discussed how this system is expensive for shareholders. Shareholders are asked to pay maximums in fees. In conclusion, Laster stated that the costs are both the financial cost and the uncertainty in the shareholders voting.
Vice Chancellor Laster proposed that this system can be solved through distributed ledger technologies, which would “provide better accuracy, greater transparency, and superior efficiency for settling securities trades and voting in corporate elections.” A distributed ledger is a database of recorded transactions maintained collaboratively by a decentralized person. The Vice Chancellor pointed to Bitcoin as the example for this system. With Bitcoin, when a Bitcoin miner finds a cryptographic key, other users assess if that key is correct, and if a quorum of users agree, they miner gets a Bitcoin.
Vice Chancellor Laster asserted that this is a “carpe diem” moment, and the shareholders need to take the lead on this technology. Using Delaware as an example, he discussed the Delaware Blockchain initiative implemented by Governor Jack Markell in May 2016. This initiative aims at implementing blockchain technology into the DGCL for the benefit of Delaware corporations. The Vice Chancellor stated that Delaware wants corporations and their stockholders to take advantage of the blockchain technology, and ended his presentation by emphatically stating that everything is there for the stockholders, they just have to initiate this change in the system.