The role and future of the annual general meeting (AGM) has been debated for many years, long before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the process up completely. The Financial Times reported that, pre-coronavirus, “critics argued the event was outdated, with many attended by just a few shareholders”. The temporary restrictions brought in to allow annual meetings to occur, even under social distancing regulations, may well have expedited the process of change and could, in fact, help increase AGM attendance.
As we navigate an uncertain future, adjusting to a ‘new normal’ after COVID-19, shareholder engagement has to be at the forefront of issuers’ minds. Many investors are adamant that whatever happens in terms of AGMs going forward, issuers need to increase, not decrease, engagement with shareholders.
In June 2020, Simon Gergel, chief investment officer for UK equities at Allianz Global Investors, stated that “shareholders need a chance to meet the executives in person and ask them questions in a public forum”. He was referring to the measures taken by some issuers to merely stream AGMs without interaction from investors. But there is a way that you can reap the benefits of online meetings as well as continue to allow shareholders to hold the board of directors to account. This article explains how you can increase attendance at your annual meetings as you maintain and develop deep shareholder relationships.
Why 2022 AGMs won’t be back to normal
There is no doubt that COVID restrictions are easing in the majority of countries, but that does not mean that the pandemic is over. And you need to factor that into your planning for the 2022 AGM season. Shareholders and board members alike may still be cautious of meeting in large groups, especially if they are medically vulnerable.
This means that venues need to be well-ventilated, spacious and it is a good idea to provide hand sanitiser and masks. In addition, providing an option to attend online makes sense. It allows those who are shielding or isolating to take part, as well as those who remain unable to attend because of international travel restrictions.
In addition, the focus on ESG, sustainability, diversity and other hot topics will only intensify as we move forward. These considerations will play an ever more important role in AGMs, meaning it is unlikely we will return to ‘normal’ any time soon.
With these issues at play, increasing the reach of your AGM has never been more important.
Why increase AGM attendance?
Get support for your strategy
It is important that issuers and investors are pulling in the same direction. If there is disparity between the parties’ visions, it can cause conflict and hold the business back. Increasing AGM attendance brings the opportunity to discuss and debate the strategy. The board can sell their vision and persuade shareholders to support it, whilst the investors can question it, express any reservations and deliver suggestions. The more attendees, the more voices you can hear and the more you can be sure that there is broad agreement.
Deepen relationships with investors
The AGM is one of the few times in the year you have the opportunity to gather a large number of shareholders. Your board might meet with key shareholders and you will run roadshows for smaller groups, but the AGM has the potential to bring everyone together at once. The more people who attend the annual meeting, the more you get to engage them and connect with them. At an AGM, you are marketing the company as much as you are discussing past and future strategies, so use the chance to talk to many investors at once to provide a presentation that draws them in and shows they are valued. They will appreciate the board interaction and the opportunity to hold management to account. It is your chance to validate them and bring them closer to the business.
Demonstrate board accountability
When there are more shareholders in attendance, there are more points of view. You aren’t just “preaching to the converted”, who will accept everything the board says as gospel. You are also more likely to find dissenting voices. These are the voices who keep the board accountable, who will speak up when they feel the board has fallen short and will keep them on track. Although dissent from investors is not easy to hear, it is an integral part of an AGM and in ensuring transparency and collaboration.
Align your ESG goals
A larger cohort of shareholders in attendance at your annual gathering provides a broader range of feedback on your environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) strategy. As ESG factors are driving many investment decisions nowadays, understanding your shareholders’ motivations and wishes is key to aligning your sustainability strategy. Euronext Corporate Services’ ESG Advisory helps you build the ESG pillar of your equity story to help you prove your sustainable credentials. Shareholder Analysis also gives you rich data insights into your current shareholding and that of your peers, to help you create strategies that will talk to shareholders and strengthen your market position.
A simple strategy to improve your AGM attendance
1. Pay special attention to the agenda
The agenda of your meeting is sent out to invitees in advance and can be absolutely key in deciding whether they attend or not. Remember that they will likely receive numerous agendas for the AGMs of all the companies in which they invest, and you have to make yours stand out from the crowd.
Think about how to make your agenda engaging and relevant to your investors, and tell them why they should prioritise your AGM over the others. Provide value for them. For example, invite a guest speaker to offer thought leadership on the industry, the future of governance or another relevant topic. Seeing this on an agenda shows it won’t just be another dry, factual string of PowerPoint presentations. Your potential attendees will see and appreciate the fact that you are attempting to produce a worthwhile event.
2. Notify attendees in due time
Many countries have a minimum notice period for informing stakeholders of the holding of an AGM. In Ireland, you must give 21 days’ notice, whereas it is 30 days in Italy for a publicly listed company, for example.
However, the earlier you can inform attendees, the better. It gives them more time to plan for the event, blocking out their diaries, and means that you are likely to get your notice in ahead of another issuer who might want to hold their AGM on the same day. If you inform people early, they can commit to attending your event and you have the best opportunity to increase your attendance.
3. Promise an open discussion
You should tackle the fears of people like Simon Gergel from Allianz Global Investors head on when you plan and promote your AGM. Apart from the mandatory Q&A session, budget extra time for discussion, questions and feedback in the agenda. This reassures investors that they will have the chance to have their say at the meeting. If investors do not think they will be heard, there is no reason for them to attend the AGM, meaning that you miss out on the opportunity to understand their thought processes and to engage them in your business. With topics such as ESG anddirector remuneration stirring investor passions, it is vital to allow shareholders a platform at the annual meeting. They will take this opportunity, knowing that it is a public forum in which they can hold board members to account.
4. Offer access to information
It is good practice to provide meeting notes to shareholders after the AGM. This shows you are serious about following up the issues raised and that you prize shareholder engagement. Investors can also refer to the previous year’s meeting notes when deciding whether or not to attend the next AGM.
If investors see that there was an engaging and open meeting last year, it will give them confidence that this year’s will follow the same pattern and can help persuade them to attend.
5. Use a virtual or hybrid setup
Providing an online option for attending the AGM increases your potential reach. With investors often having numerous invitations to juggle, as well as taking travel and accommodation into account, attending all the required AGMs in person is just not viable. This is even more of a pressing issue today, as COVID-19 rise again across Europe. This means your shareholders may be subject to self-isolation or travel restrictions.
Many take place during the workday, meaning shareholders can be away from the office for long periods of time if they have to attend all in person. Being able to stream the events means that they only need to free up the duration of the meeting and can attend from home or their office. It also allows those who are still uneasy about attending public gatherings to have their say on annual reports, remuneration and more.
Using a professional AGM webinar platform like Company Webcast means that your online attendees can get involved with voting and asking questions, just like those in physical attendance, as well as engaging with other interactive features too.
6. Engage shareholders year-round
Shareholder engagement is not just an annual activity. In order to make your investors more disposed to attending your AGM, you should show them that they are valued all year round.
If you show your commitment to investor relations at virtual roadshows and other events for individual shareholders or groups of investors, they will be more confident that the AGM will allow them the platform they desire. They will understand that yours is a company that values input from investors and will be more likely to attend the meeting.
External communications are key to fostering these relationships. Create an external comms strategy to ensure you are at the forefront of investors’ minds.
Are private companies required to hold an AGM?
The requirement to hold an annual shareholder meeting for a private company may alter between jurisdictions. For example, in France, SAS and SARL companies are required to hold at least one general meeting of all shareholders each year. Although they may be private companies, the shareholders still have to meet annually.
When should AGM minutes be distributed?
There is no set time frame for distributing meeting minutes. However, it is good practice to send the minutes and documentation of the meeting for review soon after it so that errors can be amended whilst the meeting is still fresh in people’s minds.
What is the quorum for an AGM?
The quorum for an AGM is usually determined by the requirements in public companies’ articles of association. If there is no quorum requirement in the articles, you should look to the law in your jurisdiction, where there may be a default quorum requirement for businesses.
Increasing attendance at your AGM is an excellent way to foster investor relations and forge strong bonds between the business and its shareholders. These tips will help build AGM attendance and increase engagement from your shareholders, helping you to create strategies that meet their approval and ensuring all parties are focused on a goal that works to the benefit of everyone.
Company Webcast is the perfect solution for meetings, whether they are fully virtual or a hybrid of online and in person. Our professional platform allows you to provide a great stream as well as ensuring remote attendees can interact as much as they could in the venue. Get a demo for your company today.