Over the last few years, people’s propensity to use digital alternatives has grown exponentially. According to Ofcom in its 2015 Communications Market Report, smartphones have become the hub of our daily lives and are now in the pockets of two thirds (66%) of UK adults. The vast majority (90%) of 16-24 year olds own one; but 55-64 year olds are also joining the smartphone revolution, with ownership in this age group more than doubling since 2012, from 19% to 50%.
Usage levels are also an interesting indicator, with people using their smartphone for longer, spending nearly two hours every day to browse the internet, access social media, bank and shop online.
Paving the way
Right from the time of its first AGM in 2015, Jimmy Choo cherished a vision of delivering its AGMs entirely electronically. Jimmy Choo is a comparatively young company, started in 1996, and used to operating on a global stage with creative panache, so maybe it should come as no surprise that it took a fresh, innovative look at how a different approach could achieve good governance and maximise reach to its investor base.
It used to be the case that new technology took quite some time to bed in and for people to adopt it. That, however, seems to be changing, perhaps in part driven by a younger, digitally savvy generation, although this is clearly quickly cascading to older generations also.
In the last 15-20 years, the growth in popularity of booking holidays online has been phenomenal. This is evidenced in a recent survey* conducted by Equiniti, 63% of respondents said they are very competent in using online holiday bookings versus 8% who said they do not use these services. When asked in the same survey about online banking, a more recent addition to online services, the number of people claiming to be very competent in its use was even higher at 77%.
The adoption of new technology is far more rapid now than ever before and this paves the way for initiatives like electronic AGMs to become popular much more quickly than they might have done in the past.
Shareholder appetite for change
There are now 300 million active users of Skype as of April this year (according to Statista) and although there are no statistics available for the number of business users, anecdotal evidence would suggest it is becoming more popular with this audience too.
Many organisations are using webinars as a means of interacting with their stakeholders, be it for sales or marketing activities or when a company wants some direct interaction. It is recognised now that not everyone needs to be in the same place to communicate.
Change and modernisation seem to be underway.
According to the Equiniti survey*, 77% of shareholders think companies should do more to encourage shareholder engagement and 45% of these shareholders said they would be more inclined to attend an electronic AGM. 23% stated that they do not attend AGMs now but would like to do so in the future.
A third (33%) of shareholders claimed to follow all or some of the companies they invest in on social media. There is clearly an appetite amongst shareholders for increased digital interaction and shareholder engagement and so the onus is now on companies and their registrars to take the initiative and do more to satisfy this call.
Good governance and socially responsible
The most pertinent aspect of the request from Jimmy Choo was to achieve an increase in investor access to their AGM, giving all of their investors the opportunity to participate regardless of location − something a lot of companies strive towards these days. Jimmy Choo believed that fully digitising the process would facilitate this.
Peter Harf, Chairman of Jimmy Choo PLC:
We are very pleased with the outcome of this process, which achieved its aim of broadening shareholder access to our AGM in the most convenient way possible. This was in good part due to our registrars and their innovative approach to modernising the traditional AGM.
With a reduced carbon footprint being a concern for many responsible investors and PLC boards, an additional but no less important benefit of a fully electronic AGM, is that shareholders and board members no longer have to travel to a physical location, saving all parties travel costs and time. With the globalisation of companies and a shareholder base spread around the world, this becomes even more relevant.
Scoping and delivering this first
It became clear through the scoping work Equiniti carried out, that an application for shareholder verification and voting would be required, coupled with the use of telephony for shareholder participation at the meeting.
The solution design had to mirror all the requirements of a physical AGM but, of course, in electronic form; attendance, presentations, Q&A and voting. It had to be simple to use and the experience of the end user had to be considered at all times.
Another key contributor to the process of delivering this first electronic AGM was Lumi; a long-term partner to Equiniti.
An AGM mobile application was created as a native app (Android and iOS). The app directly integrates with the AGM software to allow shareholders to submit questions and vote on the resolutions being put to the meeting.
Stuart Ellen, Managing Director, Registration Services, Equiniti:
Another first for Equiniti in delivering an electronic AGM demonstrates that Equiniti is on the front foot when it comes to technology and innovation and further evidences why we are recognised as the leading AGM team within the industry.
Leading the way
The AGM was much better attended than Jimmy Choo’s first physical AGM in 2015, which highlights the greater appeal and accessibility of an electronic AGM.
Technology often defines how the world changes and how our habits change. This first electronic AGM has excited a lot of interest from other companies although the pace of change remains to be seen; whether they follow the Jimmy Choo lead or perhaps utilise a hybrid version, offering both a physical and online meeting as a stepping stone to making the move to a fully electronic AGM.
Guy Wakeley, Chief Executive of Equiniti:
It's fantastic to be credited with not only a significant step forward in the use of technology, but also a watershed moment for the standards of UK corporate governance. Use of this technology will lighten the burden on companies as well as improve engagement with shareholders by making AGMs more accessible.
* The Equiniti 2016 Savings and Investments Survey was conducted online amongst subscribers to Shareview, a personal finance newsletter produced by Equiniti and generated 6,730 responses, of which 6,514 were shareholders. The survey was carried out in July 2016.