How to ask Questions at AGMs

The furore caused by a few grumpy old misogynistic men asking questions at the Aviva AGM is huge. It casts a terrible image and is totally unrepresentative of the vast majority of individual investors who are professional and courteous. ShareSoc totally disapproves of the appalling conduct of certain shareholders at the Aviva AGM. See https://www.ft.com/content/01b723f1-1a7b-4096-86be-95148eb8aca0 (subscription required)

 

and https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-10806369/Aviva-boss-hit-misogyny-City-sexism-storm-AGM.html

Amanda Blanc said: ‘After 30-plus years in financial services, I am pretty used to sexist and derogatory comments.

‘Sadly, just like many other women in business, I’ve picked up my fair share of misogynistic scars.’

Blanc, who has had senior roles at insurers Axa and Zurich, added: ‘I would like to tell you that things have got better in recent years, but it’s fair to say that it has actually increased – the more senior the role I have taken, the more overt the unacceptable behaviour.

‘The surprising thing is that this type of stuff used to be said in private, perhaps from the safety of four walls in an office – that people are now making these comments in a public AGM is a new development.’

At Aviva’s annual general meeting this week, investors questioned whether Blanc should be ‘wearing trousers’ and said women are ‘good at basic housekeeping activities’.

ShareSoc were contacted by the FT for our views and we responded that we disapproved most strongly and also noted that:

A good, well run AGM is a sign of a good company with a good culture.

The FT raised a point about a certain narrative being promoted by some parties, that AGMs are a waste of time. ShareSoc think such a narrative is dangerous and that it needs to be rebuffed strongly by all parties. AGMs have a critical role in holding Boards to account. Boards already have huge power, in practice, and are very difficult to unseat or to change their focus/priorities. Fortunately the FRC are looking at ways at making the AGM more effective. The FRC will be publishing its new guidance (to which ShareSoc and UKSA have contributed) in the Summer.

ShareSoc’s guidance on how to ask questions at AGMs

Shareholders are entitled to ask questions and should be polite. You can make your point firmly but should not be rude.

Shareholders should normally not ask more than 3 questions and should keep them brief and to the point. Complex technical questions are best put in writing before the meeting with a response requested at the meeting. Shareholders and Chairs should be careful not to bore the audience. Shareholders should note that an AGM is a good place to make one or two key points or questions, to which the board can respond. It is not the best place to conduct a debate with the directors or make a long winded speech.

Standards of what language is acceptable in public have dropped in recent years in the UK. It should be noted that what words might be used on Twitter or in the grandstands of a football match should be avoided and are not acceptable in an AGM.

ShareSoc have also published guidance on AGMs, which can be downloaded here:

https://www.sharesoc.org/How_To_Run_General_Meetings.pdf

https://www.sharesoc.org/investor-academy/advanced-topics/general-meetings/

This is an official ShareSoc News Item written by ShareSoc Director Cliff Weight.

4 Comments
  1. Cliff Weight says:

    This story rolls and rolls. Daily Mail has a big piece today, see https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-10830761/Calls-ban-sexist-Avia-shareholders-life-Amanda-Blanc-abuse.html which quoted ShareSoc’s and my views:

    “ShareSoc is also in favour of banning misogynistic shareholders from meetings.

    Director Cliff Weight said: ‘It’s outrageous. If shareholders don’t behave they should be asked to leave the meeting.

    ‘Nutters should be removed. You can give them a yellow card and then a red card.’”

  2. rogerwlawson says:

    I think the problem at Aviva was lack of forceful chairmanship of the meeting. The Chairman has the ability to enforce reasonable behaviour or “put down” any shareholders who make inappropriate or silly comments. They can ask shareholders to behave, or in extremis they can ask shareholders to leave the meeting. But shareholders should not be permanently banned as some people have suggested.

    • Peter Reiss says:

      I agree with the comment about weak chairmen. It’s particularly evident at the entirely predictable disruption we have seen at companies like Barclays and Shell where they have no idea how to react.

  3. Cliff Weight says:

    Thank you Peter Reiss for your comment. We have put this point to the FRC who are about to publish new guidance and will reinforce it.
    Peter Parry made similar point in the Mail on Sunday, see https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-10840895/Call-outlaw-sexism-AGMs-Aviva-boss-Amanda-Blanc-heckled.html

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