“Old-style shareholder meetings are dead”
The re-invention of the AGM
Attendance at the annual general meeting is in decline. Fewer shareholders are choosing to attend the meeting in person, and while virtual or hybrid meetings are an effective alternative there are not enough online sign-ups to balance out the reduction in numbers overall.
What does this mean for a meeting that was once a highlight for thousands of ordinary shareholders – a chance to mingle with directors, ask questions and hold the board to account? And how can companies ensure they’re not alienating their shareholders at their next AGM but encouraging them to come and engage with the business of their company?
The evolution of hybrid meetings
Many organisations have explored different formats to meet the changing needs and priorities of their shareholders. While the primary purpose of an AGM is to share factual company information, a hybrid meeting can drastically enhance the overall experience for both the board and shareholders – and extend the opportunity for a shareholder to attend from wherever they are.
When considering content, for example, a hybrid format provides increased opportunity to use video effectively beyond the traditional opening of the meeting. This could include a pre-roll of information as shareholders take their seats (real or virtual), sharing business presentations that have been filmed at company locations, and pre-recorded new board member introductions.
Hybrid AGMs also allow for a good balance of topics. A designated question master, who has overall visibility of questions coming through via telephone, online and in the room itself, can orchestrate the process effectively on behalf of the chair without them needing to relinquish control.
Sounds like a good solution… so why are shareholders not feeling the love?
What’s next for AGMs?
Hybrid meetings provide the answer to many challenges around audience accessibility and inclusivity. But many shareholders miss the old-style in-person meeting (and tea and biscuits!). How can organisations demonstrate good governance and corporate best-practice by attracting as many shareholders to their AGM as possible?
One solution to revive the traditional AGM is to organise local viewing parties. Held at company sites across the country, they make it possible for shareholders to visit regional offices, meet important executives, enjoy some hospitality, and watch the online proceedings in the company of others in the room. For those AGMs that are already hybrid, this approach needn’t introduce new complex technology – by leveraging the online shareholder platform, those attending a viewing party can have voting and asking question rights via the same platform.
Not only do AGM viewing parties tick the shareholder governance box, they can also enhance employee engagement with special online access and ‘meet the board’ opportunities – ticking the employee governance box at the same time. An AGM ‘roadshow’ takes the viewing party concept to another level, to include visits by the board to key locations where there is a concentration of shareholders and employees.
Given the legal and logistical complexities of running an AGM, and the risks of unforeseen disruptions, these alternative meeting formats do require additional planning. Every detail must be meticulously thought-through, and contingencies put in place to cope with any unexpected incidents that could arise around security or the meeting’s technical arrangements.
This can be a daunting prospect but with the right planning and support, there is nothing to stop organisations from delivering a cost-effective and successful meeting that provides a positive experience for their board and which their shareholders actively look forward to attending.
Old-style AGMs aren’t dead, they simply need new life breathing into them.