With much of the world in lockdown for the past few weeks as a result of COVID-19, everyone has moved online. Everything that can go digital has gone digital, it seems, and that includes annual meetings.
According to Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the shareholder advisory firm, as of April 22nd , 2,240 annual meetings around the world were planned to be online-only, up from 286 for all of 2019.
Virtual AGMs are not just for the lockdown. They have many benefits – they can attract more
shareholders than a physical meeting, they’re cheaper, greener and less time-consuming.
Harvard Law School’s Forum on Corporate Governance says that the annual meeting is “an
opportunity for shareowners to ask questions of management and directors about the business of the company. It is generally accepted that shareowner participation should be welcomed and
encouraged at a company’s annual meeting of shareowners.”
And yet this is not always happening when meetings go online. Many firms that say they are holding virtual AGMS are doing no such thing – they are effectively running a webinar or webcast that just presents the company’s results and management comments, but doesn’t allow shareholders to ask questions, hold the board to account or scrutinise decisions.
This is a real frustration for us at Lumi because we know that the technology is available to allow online attendees to play a full and valuable role in the meeting. In fact, a virtual AGM doesn’t have to be that different from a physical AGM. Thanks to our platform, all of the elements that make up a physical meeting – authenticated registration, Q&A, voting – can still be part of a virtual meeting.
A virtual meeting certainly gives you the opportunity to group questions by subject matter, to see what people are going to ask in advance and to create an orderly queue for questioners. But it should not be used as a reason to silence your shareholder base.
Investors need to have their say, now more than ever – and using the technology as an excuse to deny them that opportunity is just not acceptable.