The usual format for an AGM goes something like this:
- In the first 15 to 30 minutes introductory remarks are made by the Chairman and the CEO focused on the upcoming financial year and operating results of the previous financial year.
- Each item on the agenda will then be considered, discussed with shareholders and voted on by a show of hands or a poll.
- After the meeting commences, the mingling begins over tea, coffee, cakes and sausage rolls. Generally by the time the sausage rolls and cakes come out most of the shareholders have already quickly made for the exits.
The AGM format descibed above has been in place for decades, and even with the copious amounts of free sausage rolls and cakes, the shareholder attendance rates for AGM's has been declining significantly.
Why is this happening - Dysfunctional system?
A bi-annual survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, showed that for the first time, a larger proportion of directors consider the AGM system to be dysfunctional rather than working well. Some have said that the decline in AGM attendance may be due to shareholders being able to access publicly available information well in advance of AGMs, making physical attendance less necessary.
Why is this happening - Shift in behaviour?
Other people point to a shift in voting behaviour of shareholders, such as the increased use of proxy voting or the ability to vote online but generally the main issues with AGM's boils down to two key points.
- The focus of AGM’s is on the past – The introductory remarks and the first two formal items of business during the meeting is generally the financial results of the previous year. Given most AGM’s are held a few months after the release of the full year results, this is old news. The investment community has well and truly digested the full year results by the time the AGM rolls around and is more interested in the years ahead than the year that has been
- Resolutions are already decided – The majority of voting has already been done before the meeting by casting a proxy vote. Generally this means that the results of the resolutions have been decided well before the resolutions are put to the meeting. This is not to say that the resolutions should not be open to discussion but dedicating the majority of the time of the meeting to debating resolutions that have already been decided seems like a great way to disengage shareholders.
So how can we improve AGM's?
Similar to what Skype and Google Hangouts have done in creating a virtual boardroom, an ideal way to increase shareholder turnout, interaction and voting during an AGM would be to remove the burden of having to physically attend while still retaining the abilities of being physically there.
In the age of the internet, the smartphone and encrypted security there should be no reason why someone cannot attend and vote during an AGM ‘virtually’ through their smartphone and to do this we would only need a few key features.
- The ability for a shareholder to login to a smartphone app on the day of the scheduled AGM and be verified as a shareholder for that particular company through an existing database of shareholders details.
- The ability to allow shareholders to be informed on each company item and be able to easily vote on that item as well as being able to see the voting split.
The advantages that this virtual AGM would bring are:
- A greater reach and ease of shareholder participation
- Greater transparency and improved communication.
- Reduced costs and time constraints - no venue booking and other setup costs required.
So with all this great upside for both the company and the shareholders why hasn’t anyone created a virtual AGM service yet?
Well it turns out someone has...