The "agency view" of corporations argues that the decisions rights (or control) of a corporation should be entrusted to a manager, so that the manager can act in the interest of shareholders (Figure 1). Partly as a result of this, mechanisms of corporate governance include a system of controls that are intended to align the incentives of managers with those of shareholders.
The term "agency costs" refers to instances when an agent's behavior has deviated from a principal's interest. In this case, the principal would be the shareholder. These types of costs mainly arise because of contracting costs, or because individual managers might only possess partial control of corporation behavior. They also arise when managers have personal objectives that are different from the goal of maximizing shareholder profit.
Typically, the CEO and other top executives are responsible for making decisions about high-level policy and strategy. Shareholders, on the other hand, are individuals or institutions that legally own shares of stock in a corporation. Typically, these people have the right to sell those shares, to vote on directors nominated by various boards, and many other privileges. This being said, shareholders usually concede most of their control rights to managers.
While attempting to benefit shareholders, managers often encounter conflicts of interest. For example, a manager might engage in self-dealing, entering into transactions that benefit themselves over shareholders. Managers might also purchase other companies to expand individual power, or spend money on wasteful pet projects, instead of working to maximize the value of corporation stock. Venturing onto fraud, they may even manipulate financial figures to optimize bonuses and stock-price-related benefits.
The chief goal of current corporate governance is to eliminate instances when shareholders have conflicts of interest with one another. Another important goal is to evaluate whether a corporate governance system hampers or improves the efficiency of an organization. Research of this type is particularly focused on how corporate governance impacts the welfare of shareholders. After the high-profile collapse of a number of large corporations in the past two decades, several of which involved accounting fraud, there has been a renewed public interest in how modern corporations practice governance, particularly regarding accounting.
Advocates of governance typically encourage corporations to respect shareholder rights, and to help shareholders learn how and where to exercise those rights. Disclosure and transparency are intertwined with these goals.