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App Gives Everyday Shareholders Tinder-Like Voting Power

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- So you want to reduce fossil fuel consumption? End gun violence? Battle deforestation? Or perhaps you want to reduce carbon emissions? Well, now there's an app for that.

Many shareholders don't vote on major company decisions because they don't realize that they can vote or don't have the time or motivation to fill out the giant paper packets they receive in the mail.

The San Francisco-based online investment advisor, OpenInvest, wants more shareholders to vote and they've created the only app ever to offer proxy voting with a swipe of the finger.

Its aim is to transform shareholder voting from an archaic and painstaking mail-in task to a simple -- and potentially fun -- Tinder-esque activity on your cell phone.

"Shareholders directly and indirectly own nearly 80 percent of U.S. equities, which means CEOs work for us," said Joshua Levin, a co-founder and chief strategy officer at OpenInvest.

Levin believes shareholder votes are one of the most powerful tools to shape the world, "often driving major corporate decisions on how to treat people and the planet ... The corporations we own are more powerful than governments and also happen to set the political agenda."

OpenInvest, a startup with venture capital funding from Y Combinator and Andreessen Horowitz, wants individual investors to ditch the big paper packets they receive in the mail -- which many people already ignore -- and instead download their app to vote on the policies and leadership at the companies they invest in.

Last year, individual shareholders hardly exercised their voting rights. Only 28 percent voted, while institutional investors -- such as banks, hedge funds and pension funds -- voted on 91 percent of their shares in 2016, according to surveys conducted by Broadridge Financial Solutions and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The app, launched Monday, allows you to track all your investments, proxy vote, invest or divest from companies depending on your personal values and then automatically rebalances your portfolio so you don't have to sacrifice returns, according to OpenInvest.

Users of the app can also see the real-time environmental and social impacts of their investment actions, calculating and modeling impact company by company across your portfolio.

Eleanor Bloxham, CEO and founder of The Value Alliance and an authority in the field of corporate governance said, "I think people don't vote their proxies because they don't realize how much their vote counts - how much their votes can influence the way companies are run and by extension the health of the economy, human well-being and inequality, social justice and the environment."

Read Also: Tech Company Helps Investors Divest From Dakota Access Pipeline

Creating the proxy vote feature wasn't a simple task. Co-founder Levin explains, "In order to give people proxy voting rights, you need to bypass the fund managers, who are currently blocking voting rights and transparency, not to mention charging you extra fees!"

OpenInvest buys up the underlying stock and skips the fund manager, which Levin says often vote against sustainability-related shareholder resolutions.

"By unleashing the world's first digital democracy, we're putting the economy's most important decisions - whether to pollute or sustain the planet, whether to discriminate or diversify -- at the fingertips of its rightful owners: you and me," Levin said.

With a single swipe, individuals can vote on routine actions such as mergers and acquisitions, stock compensation plans and electing directors to the board. OpenInvest also believes individual investors will choose to vote for positive environmental and social impacts and transform Wall Street as we know it.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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