‘Hybrid sounds quite easy but actually, the hybrid model will require quite a bit of thought and structure to work properly for roadshows,’ Alex Aylen, head of equities for Canaccord Genuity’s UK and Europe capital markets business, tells IR Magazine.
We’ve all become so accustomed to the efficiency of online meetings that it will take some adjustment going back to face to face and hybrid, she says.
Aylen has now done some hybrid meetings, though not a full roadshow. But even without a packed roadshow schedule, hybrid comes with challenges, she says. ‘We’ve had times where a company has come in and the Tube is delayed or there’s a traffic jam and then we’re late – and I’m worried about my Zoom meeting at 11:00 am, which I can’t change because it will impact everything else.’
The difficulty will be on a busy roadshow, continues Aylen. ‘We’ve become used to being extremely busy because we’ve been able to fit it all in on Zoom. Sometimes I’ve had 16 or 17 meetings in a day – but that’s not normal.’ So expectations might need some adjusting, while the other challenge is also around hybrid logistics.
‘At the moment, if you’re on Zoom you’re probably at home or perhaps in our own offices, but when you’re on a roadshow, you’re typically in other people’s offices,’ she notes. ‘So you have to think about space management, logistics and so on.’
Aylen isn’t saying that a hybrid roadshow isn’t possible of course, and she notes that there are software companies that can help with visitor management for example, it’s just that the transition might not be as easy as people are expecting.
‘When someone is doing Zoom and face to face, and you have to incorporate travel times and logistics, or there’s a delay, I think that it might be more difficult to manage,’ she says. ‘My concern is really around hybrid roadshows but I do think hybrid is going to be more challenging than we all think at the moment’.
At Canaccord, the ‘initial intention will be to make hybrid roadshows more structured – maybe one day on Zoom, one day face to face – ultimately, the roadshows are dictated by the availability of the fund managers. So it will end up being a mix of each because you have to be flexible.’
Return to face to face
Aylen is speaking from Canaccord’s London headquarters – where more face-to-face meetings are already happening – particularly on the fund manager side, after the UK’s full opening on ‘freedom day’ last month. She says the firm’s face-to-face focus is firstly on adhering to any remaining regulations of course, but also on making sure that staff and visitors feel safe.
‘We are encouraging people back to the office, but we’re still very focused on social distancing,’ she says. ‘For example, we used to sit next to the sales traders – we’re now on a different floor.’
Bobbie Hilliam, head of corporate broking at Canaccord, says there is of course a backlog on the corporate side. Some companies have not met investors in-person for 18 months – while others have gone public during that time without meeting an investor face to face.
‘Particularly in an IPO, those people have put something very personal, which holds a large amount of their wealth in terms of shares, into an investor’s hands – so there’s comfort in meeting face to face,’ he says.
As a result, Hilliam expects something of a boom in demand for face-to-face meetings – ‘at least from companies’ – before dropping back to more of a hybrid model.
A more relaxed approach
He says the pandemic and the sudden shift to all things virtual has accelerated some trends that were slowly seeping in from the US – such as a more relaxed dress code. ‘The City was always quite formal and you could see that just by the suits on the streets.’ Over the last 18 months in online meetings, attitudes have changed. ‘Some people do still wear suits but you also get everything from the suit to the gym and it’s more accepted.’
This is a good thing and can make the City a little less intimidating, continues Hilliam, who expects some of that more relaxed attitude to remain as people return to the workplace. ‘When we come back to the office I think there will be far more variation in terms of what people wear. You can see that not only with companies, but also with lawyers and accountants, and I think that when everybody else is more comfortable and not ‘wearing a uniform,’ then you’re more comfortable doing it too.’
He also thinks that doing an IPO virtually – as strange as that might be for companies and investors alike – has made the process less intimidating. Instead of a room full of suits and jargon, you’re looking at a screen of faces from the comfort of your home or office. And instead of having to travel to London for companies headquartered outside the capital, the IPO process can be integrated into their business days.
What about meeting etiquette today? Does anyone want to shake hands? Do we really need to bump elbows?
‘The meet and greet [for a meeting] is no different to how it is socially,’ says Hilliam. ‘It is a bit awkward in terms of the handshake, fist bump or giving a wave, but that’s because we don’t have so many face-to-face meetings. I can see already that it will normalize quite quickly – especially with so many people now double vaccinated.’
CNN Business reported this week that Goldman Sachs has ‘drawn its line in the sand’ on vaccines and will bar employees from using their ID cards to enter the office building if they haven’t submitted proof of their vaccination status.
Do vaccines come up for discussion ahead of meetings at Canaccord? The short answer is no. It might be that people assume people are double jabbed, but in a typical British approach given the sensitivity around vaccinations, it’s not a topic people bring up.
One thing Hilliam does note, though, is that people aren’t wearing masks in face-to-face meetings. ‘I did have one a few months ago where they kept the mask on, and there is nothing worse than when you take off your mask, and you’re just waiting to see what they do!’ But it’s all just part of navigating a new level of comfort as we adjust to face to face again, he says.