Who says Australia’s boards are anchored to old ways of thinking. All it took was a global pandemic to drag corporate Australia  into the 21st century last year with listed companies, for the first time, hosting entirely virtual Annual General Meetings (AGMs). 

Computershare, a share registry that claims it manages the registry needs of half of the ASX200, has released a report highlighting the key insights of the 2020 AGM season. This report provides analysis on the lessons from last year’s transition to virtual events, and comments on the key takeaways for this year’s AGM season — which will most likely be a combination of virtual and physical meetings. 

Of Computershare’s 2200 virtual and hybrid AGMs globally last year, 400 were held in Australia.  Among the Australian findings

  • 68 per cent of listed companies held their AGMs entirely virtually 
  • A further 4.9 per cent held a hybrid virtual and physical offering. 
  • 76 per cent of shareholders voted online, up 14 per cent from the year prior. 

According to Ann Bowering, Computershare’s CEO Issuer Services ANZ, “We see the year ahead as an opportunity to bring together the strengths of traditional in-person AGMs with the benefits we saw delivered by virtual meetings during 2020 — a ‘best of both worlds’ solution for our clients, whatever their objectives across governance, shareholder engagement and communications.”

Live and learn

Issuers are looking to learn from their experiences of AGM season last year to support better outcomes going forward. 

According to Computershare, “Issuers should consider putting digital engagement at the forefront during their 2021 planning. A strong and sustainable digital focus is an important part of any long-term shareholder engagement strategy.”

One of the major elements of the AGM, the Q&A, took a different form last year, with some companies choosing to use a written Q&A option via chatbox and others including live questions via telecast. According to the report, many stakeholders were concerned that the online event would reduce the accountability of directors to answer difficult or uncomfortable shareholder questions. 

Ian Matheson, the CEO of Australian Institute of Investor Relations suggested that companies can publish questions to their web site or to the ASX to enhance efficiencies and transparency.”

According to Kimalee Hunter, Assistant Company Secretary at Wesfarmers, “We brought in an external moderator to facilitate the Q&A process with the Chairman during the meeting.

“We also made sure that shareholders could submit questions prior to the meeting if they couldn’t attend on the day or they wished to dial into the meeting.”

The AGM’s digital transformation in 2020 is likely to remain a key element of AGMs going forward, where the reliance on digital communications has heightened the need for engaging content and a clean and effective user experience. 

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