The hybrid AGM — Engagement with shareholders
In May this year, the Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA) held a hybrid annual general meeting (AGM); a traditional AGM that allows extended direct voting and participation by enabling shareholders to either attend physically or online. As we know, the AGM is a key aspect of the governance framework, yet listed companies are struggling to attract shareholder participation. In 2016 only 0.16 per cent of shareholders attended company meetings.
ASA was supported by Lumi Technologies and Streamgate Webcasting, who were exemplary in their support.
We sent members instructions on how to register in the Notice of Meeting and issued instructions to members about how to send in questions and vote online. We included both a Word file that members could print out and a PowerPoint presentation that they could view onscreen.
We also noted instructions for submitting questions and voting online would appear on the screen during the AGM.
A second email was sent to all members two days before the AGM repeating this information and included phone contact details so that members could call the ASA office if they had any questions. In addition, Word and PowerPoint instructions were available on our website from the issue of the Notice of Meeting until the conclusion of the AGM.
ASA prepared a PowerPoint slide deck that aligned with the chair’s speech and this was streamed as part of the webcast of the AGM. At the appropriate time, both members in the room and those online could see the instructions for sending in questions and voting. Again, we used images of smartphone and tablet screens showing icons and buttons, with arrows showing where to locate these icons and buttons on the screen. The chair also provided verbal instructions on how to vote.
The results of voting appeared onscreen almost immediately after voting, as the votes from online were added to those in the room as well as proxies received.
So, what did we learn?
We learnt that providing step-by-step, visual instructions is essential, the technology is reliable and the hybrid AGM is the way of the future.
We also learnt that reminding members by email just before the AGM about how to participate online is critical, as is having staff familiar with how the system works so they can field queries by phone on the day. In addition, ASA staff watched the hybrid AGM so they were able to deal with the few calls that came in from members seeking assistance during the meeting.
ASA is encouraging all listed companies to follow our lead and hold a traditional AGM that allows remote voting and questioning. Directors should not avoid being ‘eyeballed’ by their shareholders — the face-to-face meeting remains a key aspect of governance. But enabling geographically challenged shareholders to participate will reinvigorate shareholder engagement at the AGM.
The recording of the AGM is available on ASA’s website at www.australianshareholders.com.au.