But while the shackles of compliance and governance can often feel like a punishment for corporate misdemeanours, this was an event with a far more liberated and forward-looking outlook.
Host Steph McGovern set the tone with hilariously frank revelations about the reality of life as a journalist and TV presenter, before Paul Matthews, CEO of Equiniti Boardroom, took to the stage. He demonstrated a year of high achievement for the business in terms of client renewals, share register transfers, new IPO clients and expansion into the US. He urged clients to come to Equiniti Boardroom with their problems. We want to build the solutions that work for you, he said. Where are your pain points?
That segued neatly into Guy Wakeley, CEO of Equiniti, who talked about the ever changing business and technological landscape. He revealed that ongoing funding will be made available at Equiniti for advances in new technology. We’re a global business that has share registration right at its core, he said.
Collapses and scandals
The next speaker was one of the most hotly anticipated in the programme. Anna Colban, Project Manager for the Financial Reporting Council, arrived to explain recent changes to the UK Corporate Governance Code. While the changes have sprung from a decline in public trust following a series of high-profile corporate collapses and scandals, the main thrust of the code revisions are to focus boards on broader culture issues and the wider outcomes of their actions.
In one of many live polls conducted amongst delegates on the day, 56% of people in attendance said they didn’t believe the reforms would deliver on their intentions. However, during the panel session that ensued, the panel wondered if the vote was just a reflection on the fact that people are busy and there’s a new document to work through.
When asked what impact he thought this new code might have on the UK as a capital market, Steve Banfield, Industry Director at Equiniti suggested that the code changes should prove positive. In his view London is already considered a gold standard with regards investor protection which in turn generates significant capital for corporate issuers to gain access to. The changes, if implemented as the code intends, should provide additional investor engagement and protections whilst not proving overly onerous on companies.
The rise of progressive shareholder engagement
One of the most recent moves in Equiniti’s steady expansion has been the acquisition of Boudicca Proxy Consultants, providing additional expertise to clients in the field of contemporary proxy and corporate governance advisory. Managing Director Sheryl Cuisia explained the origins of proxy solicitation in 1930s New York. It was pioneered by the iconic US lawyer, Joe Flom, who encouraged hostile takeovers in so-called snakepits, supervising them. The integrity of proxy solicitation today is much evolved from its murky origins and Sheryl demonstrated how a service that is used by nearly all US listed companies is being increasingly explored by UK corporates as a result of the ever-evolving corporate governance landscape. Finally, Sheryl emphasised the three pillars for shareholder engagement and proxy voting success: understand shareholders, steer strategy, and rally support.
Mutual benefits were also a strong talking point in the presentation from Robert Welch who, as well as being Group Company Secretary of Tesco, is Securities Champion for the Dormant Assets Scheme. Since the scheme came into place in 2011, more than £1.1bn has been unlocked from dormant bank and building society accounts, over £500m of which has been made available to good causes across the UK.
Plans are now underway to expand the scheme. The priority remains tracing and reuniting customers with their assets, explained Robert, adding that no customer should be disadvantaged by having an asset transferred. The expanded scheme will encourage the participation of more financial services companies, including insurance, pensions and wealth management, while intending to encourage simplicity, low costs and the full restitution of assets – a big plus for both the companies and their clients.
The crisis playbook
Next up was Mark Taylor, Chief Customer Officer at Equiniti, who pointed out how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Google have raised the bar in terms of consumer expectation – and that UK corporates need to respond to that challenge. Do you really know what your shareholder looks like, what they want and how they feel? Emotional engagement is increasingly important, he claimed.
Mark demonstrated how Equiniti can help clients create a customer journey map that is fit for purpose in a rapidly changing consumer environment. We all need to leave our comfort zone, he said. Don’t force customers to work your way – work their way.
The closing speaker, Tony Langham, Chief Executive at Lansons, pursued a similar angle in terms of reputation management. Change was a recurring theme and Tony urged organisations against complacency in preparing for crises. In his experience, the ‘crisis playbook’ isn’t tested enough and is often treated like turning up for a fire drill twice a year. Never ask ‘are we safe?’, he added. Ask ‘where are we most vulnerable?’ Citing recent organisational reputational crisis, he urged organisations to choose honesty over blind reassurance.
It was a neat link to Steph McGovern’s closing remarks in which she confessed to being caught off-guard by a fellow journalist, ending up splashed on the cover of the Daily Mail, attacking class elitism in the BBC. As she reiterated, we’re living in exciting times of progress during which diversity is being pushed higher up the corporate agenda. This will create opportunities for many – and zero room for complacency.