As we see government restrictions lifting and people returning to physical events and offices, we are interested to see how the pandemic and use of technology has changed the way companies conduct AGMs, and what you might do differently going forward.
In this month’s survey, the first question we asked was about whether organisations are planning a return to physical AGMs this year. Of those who responded, 49% said that they were planning a hybrid meeting, with 45% planning a physical only event and 6% planning a virtual only meeting.
We then asked about the preferred format for AGMs, 54% preferred hybrid or virtual compared with 39% preferring physical; 6% reported that their preference was virtual only.
Next, we wondered if the use of technology had improved the AGM experience for shareholders. Just over half (55%) replied that it had made no difference, with 32.5% saying that they had received positive feedback, and 12.5% saying that shareholders preferred the traditional experience.
In response to the question, ‘What benefits or new initiatives have you brought to your AGMs in the last couple of years?’, most companies reported that they had been running hybrid, virtual or recorded/webcast versions of AGMs for shareholders to view afterwards. Reported benefits from this approach included that the process of planning and running the AGM had become more efficient than running physical meetings and that digital options saved costs. Increased participation and attendance from shareholders further afield and those who previously weren’t able to attend and greater levels of interaction were also highlighted. A number of respondents gave positive feedback on running question and answer forums before the meeting to allow for more transparency and to allow executives to prepare responses. There were some downsides though, with a few confirming that hybrid meetings were not widely used or that they actually had less interaction, and that the format can shut out older shareholders.
When asked to rate on a scale of 1–10, how worried they were about increasing shareholder activism in the UK – with 1 being not worried at all and 10 being very worried – fortunately the average response was 3.6. This indicates only minor concerns about this issue. Forward planning and clear communication should help when handling any such challenges that arise.
The next question related to whether a company’s business strategy for climate/environmental, social and governance related issues should be set by the board or by shareholder votes. The majority (78%) replied that these decisions are best determined by the board who have full disclosure on company operations, 22% replied that both sides have equal say, with no respondents agreeing with the statement that these decisions would be best made by shareholders who are representative of the market.
Finally, we asked whether organisations link executive remuneration to ESG targets. The responses were split with 55% replying no, and 45% replying yes.
It seems as though many companies are keen to get back to physical AGMs, although the use of technology has meant that hybrid meetings are just as competitive. While it’s hard to beat the in-person interactions at physical meetings, the opportunity to streamline processes, reduce costs, prepare for Q&A and improve communication provides advantages for digital meetings. We wish you all the best with this year’s AGMs, whatever format you choose, and cannot wait to see the outputs from this season.