Rather than revert to running an AGM the same way as in pre-COVID days, companies have the opportunity to step back from the minutiae to identify how to better meet shareholders’ needs.
How much do your shareholders value open engagement? What does good use of shareholder money look like to them? Are they interested in the environmental benefits of using technology to limit travelling?
Only once such considerations have been weighed up is it time to identify the right format and resultant logistical considerations.
Some companies look set to only offer a physical meeting this year with questions being submitted ahead of time. Others are adding the option of a simple one-way webcast. At the other end of the spectrum, companies are offering an engaging hybrid meeting with live Q&As using telephone lines and texting.
Again, when deciding on the best approach, avoid getting caught up in all the options. There is a simple way through: when considering the virtual element of your AGM, the starting point should be what your articles dictate.
Most articles state that shareholders should be given the ability to be “heard”. Work out what that means to your company. Knowing your shareholders, is enabling them to submit a question beforehand going far enough?
It’s worth noting that there isn’t always a huge appetite from shareholders to attend meetings virtually. Having said that, it is the very likely direction of travel as new generations of shareholders push for greater digital options. And they’re already engaging: 80% of Generation Z shareholders have voted in AGMs – the highest of any generation1.
Running a virtual AGM of some description offers clear benefits for companies too. It creates the chance to engage a wider geographic audience and even change location away from London. Some companies are increasing their use of technology but coming out on a neutral cost basis by using their own offices to host the event.
Making more of online provides the opportunity to revisit the start time of the meeting as the traditional 11 am start was to enable shareholders to travel offpeak. Indeed, to help address institutional investor feedback about AGM clashes and make better use of valuable face-to-face board time when they’re all in the same room together, some AGMs are being scheduled earlier in the day and some later.
When there are no new strict rules on what you must do, it’s time to work out your shareholders’ and your own priorities and go from there.
AGM Checklist: Getting Practical
As we learn to live with COVID and revert to face-to-face meetings, what’s the best practice when planning an AGM in 2022? Here’s our practical checklist.
Meeting arrangements: Information in your Notice of Meeting
☐ 󠄂Knowing your business culture and your shareholders, have you agreed and communicated your official view on COVID considerations such as face masks, social distancing and lateral flow tests?
☐ 󠄂What is your duty of care towards the board, staff and shareholders?
☐ 󠄂What is your chosen venue’s policy on those considerations?
☐ 󠄂Does the Chair have the power to refuse entry on the grounds of health and safety concerns?
☐ 󠄂As is best practice, will shareholders have the opportunity to ask questions before making an informed voting decision?
☐ 󠄂Do you need to detail how you will operate the Q&A session in your Notice of Meeting?
If considering a hybrid meeting…
☐ 󠄂What do your articles state? Is the use of telephony or video conferencing also required to meet the need to be ‘heard’?
☐ 󠄂How will you make reasonable adjustments for disabilities and support people who cannot easily operate technology, ensuring your AGM is accessible, diverse and inclusive?
☐ 󠄂If proposing a hybrid meeting, do all board members and key personnel need to attend in person?
☐ 󠄂Is it appropriate to encourage digital attendance of employees, guests and third-party contractors?
☐ 󠄂How will you enforce any necessary venue and company COVID requirements?
☐ 󠄂What are your contingency arrangements should you need to address any last-minute government announcements?
☐ 󠄂What are the maximum attendance numbers for each area allowing for social distancing, if required?
☐ 󠄂Could you consider using your own office space to ensure you have full control?
☐ 󠄂What are the security arrangements?