By David Henry
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A brief, noisy protest by drum-beating young adults at Citigroup’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday evolved into an orderly exchange between an older tribal woman and the bank’s two top executives, who conceded it had approved investments in a North Dakota pipeline too quickly.
“We wish we could have a do-over on this,” Chairman Mike O’Neill said after hearing from Casey Camp-Horinek, a council woman for the Ponca Nation. She asked the executives to pardon the disruption from younger protesters who were concerned about environmental damage from the pipeline and shale oil.
Citigroup is one of four lead banks in a group of 17 which have provided project financing for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline crosses land of the Standing Rock Sioux whose members are concerned about possible ground water contamination if the pipeline breaks.
In January, U.S. President Donald Trump signed orders smoothing the path for the pipeline in a move to expand energy infrastructure and roll back key Obama administration environmental actions.
Chief Executive Mike Corbat said Citigroup had not given enough early consideration to the concerns of the indigenous people. But now, he said, Citigroup could do more to protect the environment by keeping its investments.
“We made the decision that we are a better force for good at the table than away from the table,” Corbat said. “We don’t think it is the right thing to simply sell these and walk away.”
Camp-Horinek thanked the men for listening and spoke with them and Corbat’s wife, Donna, after the meeting.
O’Neill and Corbat had waited quietly during the drumbeating and resumed the meeting after the protesters walked out peacefully after an interruption of less than 10 minutes.
Wells Fargo & Co’s <WFC.N> shareholder meeting, which was held at the same time in Florida, resulted in repeated interruptions.
That meeting went into a brief recess after a shareholder made what Chairman Stephen Sanger called a “physical approach” toward a board member and was removed.
At the Citigroup meeting in New York, shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favor of the company’s annual compensation of executives and sided with directors in rejecting a call for a special study of breaking up the big bank. In the so-called “say-on-pay” referendum, more than 95 percent of votes were cast to approve 2016 compensation awards, according to a preliminary count announced by the company. Only about 2.5 percent of votes favored a breakup study of the bank, which is the fourth biggest in the United States by assets.
The compensation endorsement was far stronger than the 63.6 percent approval at the 2016 annual meeting. Directors, disappointed that support was so weak last year, reviewed compensation practices and made changes after meeting with institutional investors and proxy voting advisory firms.
(Reporting by David Henry in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)