M&S CASE STUDY | 09 DECEMBER 2022
AGMs Go Digital
M&S is a leading British retailer with a unique heritage, making them accountable to hundreds of thousands of shareholders, all of whom have different priorities.
There are questions surrounding how a retailer can accommodate these shareholders when they are based all over the UK, particularly in a post-pandemic world where people don’t necessarily feel comfortable travelling long distances to sit in a room full of people. In this session, we looked at how M&S is pioneering digital AGMs, demonstrating and providing evidence to prove the format's success as it seems to meet the needs of all its shareholders.
The Future of AGMs – Digitisation
Marks and Spencer’s 2022 AGM built on the success of its first two fully digital meetings in 2020 and 2021. This year’s meeting once again delivered incremental growth in engagement, and the team are confident this approach ensures the AGM is far more accessible, engaging and democratic. The pandemic highlighted a need for companies to introduce additional flexibility in how AGMs are conducted, with companies showing an appetite for continuing this trend by ensuring their articles provide the authority to continue to conduct hybrid meetings, as well as continuing to provide shareholders with the facility to submit questions in advance. This shift is enabling companies to use a digitised AGM to improve shareholder engagement.
M&S believe fully virtual meetings drive increased shareholder democracy, with many shareholders feeling far more comfortable asking questions via an online platform than in front of an audience. Additionally, a virtual format allows those based further afield to participate in the key opportunity for retail shareholders to hold boards to account when they may not have previously attended in person.
Recent analysis showed a large concentration of M&S shareholders are based in the Northwest and another substantial grouping in the central belt of Scotland, as such the digital format moves away from a previous London-centric approach, helping the AGM to become a more inclusive engagement tool for shareholders regardless of where they’re based. Subsequently, shareholder engagement increased 280% since the firm’s last physical AGM.
Shareholder engagement has increased by
since the firm’s last physical AGM
M&S have also used innovative engagement methods, notably by introducing the role of a shareholder advocate. For the last two meetings, they have invited leading broadcast journalists to join the meeting and to act as a representative for shareholders in holding the Board to account. They pose a mixture of live and pre-submitted questions, pushing the board to provide robust, transparent answers to ensure shareholders believe they are accountable. This role helps provide credibility to the format to ensure the board are not being perceived as ducking the questions and are instead tackling the criticism of a lack of openness straight on. A live recording was also made available on the investor website, reaching 15,000 engagements. The pre-asked question format enables questions to be grouped and counted thematically, providing intel on the issues that matter most to shareholders. The revised structure also delivered significant cost savings for M&S of around £200k a year.
We will continue to promote our digital way of producing this key moment in the CoSec calendar as we genuinely believe it could save everyone a lot of time and money, which has never been more important in this current climate.
Rob Lyons, M&S
M&S’ approach is working, shown by the engagement growth and cost efficiencies. While the TV studio format might not be suitable for every business, it is M&S' view that digital should be adopted across the market. The team are working to ensure shareholder needs are met and their voices are heard as they continue to push the boundaries of what a digital meeting can achieve and how it will transform over time and into future years.