Prepare for video events and beneficial owner access, Computershare exec says

Apr 05, 2021
Paul Conn discusses lessons learned from last year’s adoption of virtual meetings and how they can be improved

The increased use of technologies offering remote access to AGMs has led investors to expect greater access to top C-suite executives, according to Paul Conn, president of global capital markets for global transfer agent Computershare.

Conn says the use of relatively new technology and an increase in the understanding of how to use video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom has led to better engagement between investors and companies.

He expects this improved adoption of video conferencing to affect investors’ expectations this proxy season.

‘The tech they have this season can really deliver a virtual meeting. Investors can not only hear the board, they can see them using video technology,’ Conn says. ‘This plus the general expectation of more engagement in the Q&A session will lead to more interactive meetings. We’ve all had a year to get used to meeting in a virtual environment.’

One barrier to meetings that was being encountered by investors was access for beneficial shareholders. Companies have records of registered shareholders, but not beneficial shareholders, meaning that third-party certification needed to take place through a legal proxy, Conn says.

Although steps have been taken to remedy this issue for 2021, many beneficial shareholders couldn’t access meetings last year, or could only attend as guests. Most firms allow guest access to their AGMs — 70 percent of Computershare’s clients do — but most don’t allow guests to ask questions. 

‘This frustrated a lot of investors who were in that position and this made investors feel like companies were trying to silence them,’ Conn says. ‘This year, those shareholders will be able to use control numbers on their proxy forms to access the meetings much more efficiently.’

It was important to solve the access issue, because virtual AGMs in one form or another are here to stay, Conn believes.

‘I think you’ll see a hybrid model where you will see people gathered in a physical space, but people will be able to participate remotely if they want to,’ he says.

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