Virtual AGMs took centre stage throughout COVID-19. But they come with costs.
Online-only AGMs lose the benefits and impact of in-person interaction. Companies have held heavily staged virtual AGMs, in some cases heavily restricting speaking rights. This leaves shareholders unable to ask questions based on what is being presented and discussed at the meeting, and shareholders who ask questions have no facility to respond to the company’s answer.
But we shouldn't lose the flexibility that online-access has given. in-person AGMs make it very hard for shareholders and affected communities to be present.
As we move into AGM Season, companies can hold their AGMs either in-person or virtually, and are announcing that they intend to do so. But neither format on its own is good enough. Both limit shareholder voice hugely. If investors can't fully exercise their rights, this would be a blow for transparency and accountability.
Allowing shareholders to join in person or online, for 'Hybrid AGMs' - enables mass participation, without restricting shareholder voice. The technology is widely available: it is wholly reasonable to require this from companies.