Bristol – A poll of 60 listed UK companies by global share registrar Computershare has suggested that three out of every four (76%) are considering some form of online participation in their annual general meeting (AGM).
The company said current coronavirus pandemic restrictions on large public gatherings won't lift in full until 21 June at the earliest, but some firms must hold their AGMs before that date and as such must balance company law obligations with relevant health and safety precautions.
Computershare says that virtual and hybrid meetings—in which shareholders can take part in the meeting online—were a popular alternative among clients in other parts of the world during 2020 and that 46 out of 60 UK listed companies it polled said that they are considering hybrid or virtual meetings as an alternative to a traditional face-to-face gathering.
In addition, the poll suggested an appetite among companies to keep the online elements of their company meetings once restrictions lift and physical gatherings again take place, with more than one in two, 31 (51%) respondents saying that they would supplement physical meetings with webcasts or similar technology.
Mark Cleland, CEO, Issuer Services, for the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, Ireland and Africa, at Computershare, said: "The pandemic has driven increased demand among shareholders for opportunities to engage with companies electronically, including voting and taking part in online AGMs.
"Around the world, companies have also found that online AGMs and electronic engagement events create opportunities to interact with investors more effectively, particularly for those with a geographically diverse shareholder base.
"Our poll suggests that more companies are looking seriously at different technological options, including video, that best suit their needs, and we expect more may choose to continue expanding electronic participation at meetings once we move beyond the pandemic."
Computershare said hybrid meetings, which allow for limited physical attendance combined with remote shareholder participation, including voting and being able to ask questions; could provide a solution for many companies, and 25 of the 60 (41%) or over one in three respondents said that they would consider a hybrid approach if restrictions continue.
In an industry survey last year of UK listed companies, 71% said that their experiences of AGMs in 2020 would influence how they conduct their 2021 meetings and beyond.
Below are Computershare's key tips for organising an AGM during the pandemic:
Start AGM discussions early
Companies should engage with their registrar, legal advisors and other relevant stakeholders to understand the rules on in-person gatherings and understand the options available to them as early as possible.
Review the company's Articles of Association
Companies can usually hold hybrid meetings so long as their articles do not explicitly prevent them. Companies should be sure whether their articles expressly prohibit electronic attendance or engagement, do not mention them at all or clearly permit it. If a company cannot hold a hybrid meeting but wishes to, it must first update its articles. They can consider using available technology to engage with investors either alongside the AGM, or separately, giving shareholders the opportunity to interact with the company in the meantime.
Communicate regularly and clearly with shareholders and investors
Companies should ensure their shareholder communications clearly set out the meeting's format, how and why they will moderate, group or address questions, what technology they will use and any relevant contingency measures, such as what happens if there is a problem with internet connections. They should also state how shareholders can gain access to the meeting and how they can submit questions before and during. Companies may also want to reissue this information to shareholders electronically before the event.
Offer a range of ways to vote
Companies should also ensure that they offer all available voting options, including electronic proxy appointment, and wherever possible, online voting during the meeting.
Make it easy for shareholders to look up arrangements
Companies should consider housing important information—including how to access the meeting and what information shareholders need to enter the event—on a dedicated web page and set up a specific email address for shareholders to send questions ahead. Companies should also send shareholders suitable reminders of proxy appointment deadlines.
Publish all questions
Many shareholders expect companies to publish every question asked and the company's answers. This should include any associated answers, questions not answered (and why), and any discarded or grouped together.
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About Computershare Limited (CPU)
- For high resolution images of spokespeople, visit http://cpu.vg/spokespeople.
- Computershare questioned 60 companies for the poll, 59 of which were FTSE 350-registered.
- Temporary legislation enabling companies to hold AGMs behind closed doors expired on 30 March.
Computershare (ASX: CPU) is a global market leader in transfer agency and share registration, employee equity plans, mortgage servicing, proxy solicitation and stakeholder communications. We also specialise in corporate trust, bankruptcy, class action and a range of other diversified financial and governance services.
Founded in 1978, Computershare is renowned for its expertise in high integrity data management, high volume transaction processing and reconciliations, payments and stakeholder engagement. Many of the world's leading organisations use us to streamline and maximise the value of relationships with their investors, employees, creditors and customers.
Computershare is represented in all major financial markets and has over 12,000 employees worldwide.