This blog gives you the latest topical news plus some informal comments on them from ShareSoc’s directors and other contributors. These are the personal comments of the authors and not necessarily the considered views of ShareSoc. The writers may hold shares in the companies mentioned. You can add your own comments on the blog posts, but note that ShareSoc reserves the right to remove or edit comments where they are inappropriate or defamatory.

AGM – scope for change

There is an excellent FT article on AGMs (11 June 2020) which quotes me in some detail:

Cliff Weight, from the individual shareholders group ShareSoc, says he is concerned that some companies see AGMs as a “waste of time and unnecessary, apart from the formalities” required by law. He fears some will use the disruption caused by the pandemic to rubber stamp bad practices, such as by making it harder for investors to question the board.

ShareSoc believes a move towards live AGM broadcasts on the web is long overdue, but the ability for shareholders to ask questions of the board at a physical meetings remains vital. “The current crisis provides a real prompt for change. That change must not be allowed to pass us by,” Mr Weight adds.

However, the article includes this hoary old chestnut, which needs a rebuttal

Some of the questions posed by retail investors are utterly irrelevant, such as asking about queues in local branches at bank AGMs. No wonder that some chairmen question the relevance of AGMs.

my rebuttal is –
Allowing excessive numbers of customer complaint questions at AGMs is bad and incompetent chairmanship, which can easily be avoided by careful planning. Pre-registering of questions can allow shareholders to be called to the AGM microphone in order and questions most relevant to all shareholders can be scheduled first. (AVIVA do this.) There should be a customer complaints stall staffed by employees who can deal with customer complaints before and after the AGM. Directors and senior executives should move amongst attendees before and after the AGM itself and make sure they listen to customer complaints and other shareholder concerns. At the beginning of the AGM the Chair should be clear that customer complaints cannot be answered in the meeting and that is not the purpose of the meeting.

Notwithstanding the above, shareholders will be concerned if there are a torrent of customer complaints as this is a leading indicator of customer dissatisfaction and possible future customer churn.

Likewise, the 3 and a half hours of questions at the BHP AGM on environmental issues, and health and safety issues, could be an indicator of serious underlying problems that the Board had not failed to identify and manage. Or it could be that a large number of single issue pressure groups had seized the opportunity to make a protest that would increase the profile of their movements. An asset owner considering whether to buy, sell or hold on to hundreds of millions of their investments in BHP should be present and listening to the debate as it significantly impacts the financial sustainability of BHP. The BHP Samarco disaster and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster cost their shareholders tens of billions: these examples highlight why investors need to listen to safety, environmental and health concerns raised at AGMs.

Cliff Weight, Director, ShareSoc

DISCLOSURE: I hold shares in BHP and BP.

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