With the COVID-19 pandemic causing such widespread upheaval to all aspects of daily life, I suspect few individuals outside of the ‘industry’ have considered the impact that restrictions on travel, and the lockdown on public gatherings of more than 2 people, is having on AGMs.Yet for many, the AGM is a legal or constitutional requirement for a huge number of listed organisations, member based associations, sporting federations and not-for-profits. Governance professionals are being forced to consider options for their AGM that up until recently would have been considered ‘extreme’. Hold an AGM behind closed doors with no shareholders present? Never… Take my AGM entirely online and have both the board and shareholders attend virtually? Legally confusing and controversial for some……
We might not be able to comment on the legalities of these options for your organisation, or the possible impact on shareholder / member disenfranchisement, but what I can do is to help to dispel some of the ‘fear’ that seems to exist when anyone mentions a virtual meeting.
- It’s really NOT that different.
A virtual meeting really isn’t that different to a physical meeting. All of the elements that make up a physical meeting – authenticated registration, Q&A, voting – are still part of a virtual meeting. The registration desk is replaced with a login screen, where users can enter their unique credentials provided to them by your registrar, or in the Notice of Meeting. The roving microphone for Q&A is replaced by a text entry box, and the voting keypads are replaced by clickable boxes on a screen. The real difference is that your board and the attendees are not in the same location, and whilst you may have a webcast so that that the members or shareholders can watch the proceedings, the board will really be talking to an empty room, or in to a headset.
- The technology for virtual meetings is just too complicated.
I won’t disagree with you, the technology for a virtual meeting is complex. But it’s the SAME technology that runs most of your inroom meetings. All of the core software will continue to power your online meeting – and any polling - and will manage the Q&A and reporting in the same way. In fact, if you always have the same Lumi Operator at your event, he or she can still run your virtual AGM for you as well.
The Lumi technology has been developed over 20 years, it’s used by many of the major transfer agents and registrars across the world, and it runs thousands of AGMs every year. This makes virtual a simple add-on, it really isn’t any more complicated than a physical, in-room only meeting.
- My shareholders or members will find it too difficult to participate in a virtual AGM
Joining a virtual meeting is as simple as accessing a web page, or using an app on a mobile device. The use of mobile is ubiquitous – mobile ownership is now greater than that of desktop – and its functionality is simple to use. So whilst your Board and the Chair might need to take a bit of time to make sure they are comfortable with how it all works, your shareholders and members will find it simple and straightforward.
- A virtual meeting isn’t secure
This is another myth. There are multiple measures in place to keep a virtual AGM secure, from tight security protocols to secure, cloud based networks.The security of any AGM is paramount, and our systems are regularly PEN tested by independent third parties to ensure there are no vulnerabilities within the platform.
- Everyone will try and talk at the same time
It’s a common misconception that a virtual AGM will work in the same way as a Zoom-style online meeting – where all participants can be seen and heard, and can talk at the same time. The reality couldn’t be more different. The Board members may be in the same room, but in a fully virtual meeting it’s likely that they will all be based independently from each other. The “audience” – made up of your shareholders or members – are entirely separate, entering the platform in essentially a ‘watch and listen only’ mode. They cannot interact with the board or with each other, they can simply submit moderated questions using the text based facility in the platform, and vote on resolutions / motions or elections if that functionality is enabled.
Your virtual meeting will arguably run even more smoothly than an in-room meeting, which could always be subject to shareholder or member activism, or heated debate between participants.
I hope this blog goes some way to assuaging some of your concerns about a virtual meeting, and will make you feel more confident about recommending your annual meeting is not postponed or cancelled, or held behind closed doors. And that there is a solution that can ensure you still engage with your shareholders / members, that you can maintain good corporate governance and decisions can be made to keep it as “business as usual” as its possible to be in these challenging times.