NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If banking regulators are the sheriffs of Wall Street, Sister Nora Nash might be its conscience. In the years since the financial crisis, she has urged the nation's biggest banks to curb overly generous executive compensation, improve risk management and stop irresponsible lending.
"It's not easy to keep an eye on Wall Street," Nash said during an interview at the convent outside Philadelphia that's home to her congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis. "There's so much happening, always, on Wall Street and not enough on Main Street. That's our whole issue here with the banks."
Her efforts, though, aren't limited to banking. Working through the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an advocacy group that comprises about 300 faith-based organizations, Nash and the Sisters of St. Francis have advocated for reforms they believe will make corporations more accountable to Main Street in industries from health care to pharmaceuticals, energy and manufacturing.
Together, the center's members have more than $100 billion in assets under management. By investing in the companies its members seek to improve, the center earns the right to present resolutions at annual shareholder meetings. This year alone, it has submitted 227 resolutions on values-related topics, a 15% increase from last year. At banks and finance companies, one focus has been seeking greater disclosure of political contributions and lobbying expenses.
Proposals addressing that topic that would have required annual reports on payments for lobbying and memberships in tax-exempt organizations that write model legislation were considered at this year's annual meetings of companies from American Express (AXP) to Citigroup (C) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM)
The measure failed at each of those three companies, garnering support from only 29% investors at Citigroup, 22% at American Express and 6% at JPMorgan.
Citigroup, based in New York, argued that the bank already had a comprehensive reporting system and adding another layer would be duplicative. "Citi discloses its lobbying and political contributions activities as required by law in the more than 30 states in which it is actively engaged in lobbying and political activity, and at the federal level," the bank said in its annual proxy form.
"Even though we haven't gotten good votes at the banks, that's OK," Nash said. "They know we're after them. That's the key."
In July, Nash will meet with her 10-member working group to begin planning their strategy for next year. For banks, the key topics will continue to include risk management practices, responsible lending, executive compensation, and political spending.
Those are areas examined in detail in the center's November 2013 report, "Ranking the Banks: A Survey of Seven U.S. Banks," which followed surveys of Bank of America (BAC), Bank of New York Mellon (BNY), Citigroup, Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley (MS), and Wells Fargo (WFC). The banks were rated on the content as well as the completeness of their answers.
"When you look at the economic system and you look at justice, there are some really serious pitfalls to get the banks to do what it is they really should be doing," Nash said. "The bank is there for the purpose of serving the people. That is really not happening."