After the experience of 2020, AGMs may never be the same. The pandemic led to significant reforms in the way AGMs have been conducted, having been held in broadly the same way for the last 20 years.
While the change to online meetings was an emergency measure, it was viewed by the vast majority as a success at the recent webinar, ‘Managing the 2021 AGM Season’. Whether they return to a virtual platform or a hybrid mix of in-person and online, AGMs have been transformed. Legislation-permitting, an online component is here to stay and has actually created a more level playing field because it has enabled attendance from locations and time zones that may not have been possible with physical-only meetings.
For now, companies should refer to their constitution and consider seeking legal advice if they’re considering holding a fully virtual meeting, Naomi Dolmatoff, co-founder of Sydney based Dolmatoff Nairn Corporate Governance told the panel. Unless there’s a permanent change in the law to enable virtual AGMs outside of the emergency settings, a hybrid approach may emerge as the safest and most popular option.
Virtual AGMs would have been unthinkable without a platform to run them on. In large part, last year’s meetings consisted of audio and presentations. Since then, the technology has continued to advance and now provides a range of options to facilitate maximum engagement and participation from shareholders, and this includes audio as well as written questions and a platform that can accommodate multiple speakers, Oliver Bampfield, managing director Lumi Australia told the panel.
“There are also savings in time and money, there’s the environment factor, which has far less impact in a virtual meeting compared to any other format. Virtual meetings also give far greater flexibility in terms of presenter location, so you don’t need to worry about flying people between states, because not everyone needs to be at one place,” Bampfield said.
While there have been some criticism of virtual AGMs including that they discourage shareholder questions and engagement, those familiar with them don’t see it this way. Sonya Curciev, Deputy Company Secretary CSL, explained that the company had a higher than usual attendance as its virtual AGM last year. While some of that may be due to the company’s role in vaccination production, it was also certainly related to the online option that enabled a wider range of people outside of the area of the company’s office location to attend.
“We saw an increase in attendance of approximately 29% between 2019 and 2020 AGMs because people were able to attend from locations that previously they wouldn’t have been able to,” said Curciev.
To help shareholder participation in virtual AGMs, Dolmatoff outlined a range of measures organisations can adopt including carefully drafting the notice of meeting to make sure that it clearly sets out the ways shareholders can participate in a meeting, as well as encouraging shareholders to submit questions early in the meeting instead of waiting until the agenda item relevant to their question. “And clearly articulate in the chair script and the presentation slides who to contact for assistance with technical issues. Companies should be doing everything they can to encourage wide participation,” she said.
Australia, once the laggard when it came to virtual AGMs, has moved a long way in a short space of time. While this was a necessary response to Covid restrictions, it has shown not only that virtual AGMs are possible, they have many benefits in terms of encouraging a wider range of participation.
Watch the on-demand video here.
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