Interactive Investor

Your vote counts: this is a big step forward for shareholder democracy  

A number of blue-chip firms have announced plans for online events. Investors should make the most of it.

9th April 2021 18:34

Graeme Evans from interactive investor

A number of blue-chip firms have announced plans for online events. Investors should make the most of it.

More FTSE 100 index companies have announced they will hold special events in advance of their AGMs so that shareholders can hear from board directors before casting their votes.

The virtual shareholder engagement events by AstraZeneca (LSE:AZN), Glencore (LSE:GLEN) and Persimmon (LSE:PSN) come at a time when Covid-19 restrictions make it impossible to attend AGMs in person.

By holding these pre-meetings, shareholders retain the ability to ask questions of the board and to hear their answers before voting on the various resolutions.

The events are a step forward for shareholder democracy as they mean retail investors have the same access to information as big institutions prior to voting.

It's now up to shareholders to make the most of this opportunity. That's something interactive investor clients have been doing in greater numbers by accessing the Voting Mailbox in their online account. There, they will find notifications for all the UK-listed companies they own shares in, with links to view an event or place a vote.

The AstraZeneca shareholder event is taking place on 30 April, which had been the original date for the pharmaceutical giant's AGM until it was put back to 11 May. The online event will feature a presentation from certain members of the board before a live Q&A session.

Astra's AGM will be a closed meeting with only formal business being conducted.

Persimmon's shareholder engagement event takes place at 9am on 23 April, with the informal deadline for the submission of written questions being 12 noon the previous day. The AGM takes place on 28 April, with shareholders able to watch proceedings via a webcast.

Glencore said the business of the AGM will be split across a live video webcast taking place on 22 April and the legal formalities conducted via a closed meeting on 29 April.

The webcast will include presentations on strategy and performance and there will also be the opportunity for shareholders to ask questions in real time concerning the business of the AGM.

Glencore said: “Holding this event one week in advance of the AGM date will provide shareholders with the opportunity to exercise their vote after consideration of the information provided during the webcast.

“Shareholder engagement is important to the company and we therefore encourage shareholders to participate in the webcast and vote via proxy.”

As we reported last month, Lloyds Banking Group (LSE:LLOY) is holding a virtual shareholder engagement event the week before its Edinburgh AGM takes place on 20 May.

NatWest Group (LSE:NWG) is holding a shareholder engagement event for the second year in a row, with the 2021 online gathering taking place the week before its 28 April AGM.

Lloyds was one of the most voted shares on the interactive investor platform last year, alongside Unilever (LSE:ULVR), BP (LSE:BP.), Vodafone Group (LSE:VOD), Royal Dutch Shell (LSE:RDSB), Scottish Mortgage (LSE:SMT) investment trust, GlaxoSmithKline (LSE:GSK), Rolls-Royce (LSE:RR.) and Royal Mail (LSE:RMG).

Among these companies, the AGMs for Glaxo and Unilever are taking place on the same day, 5 May. The Glaxo AGM is to be broadcast live, with shareholders able to participate electronically.

Unilever's shareholder engagement event take place after the conclusion of its AGM and includes presentations by chairman Nils Andersen and chief executive Alan Jope. The pair will also participate in a Q&A, with shareholders encouraged to submit questions in advance by 3 May although there is also an online tool to ask follow-up questions.

The Unilever AGM has added significance because it will be the first time that a major global company has voluntarily put its climate transition plans before a shareholder vote.

The plan sets out the steps the company is taking to reduce emissions within its operations and through its supply chain. It also describes how the company is integrating climate change considerations into its products and brands.

Unilever shareholders are also being asked to vote on the company's new remuneration policy, which is updated every three years.

The BP AGM is taking place on 12 May, with Rolls-Royce holding its meeting on 13 May. The engines maker plans to live stream the meeting, meaning shareholders will be able to hear from the company and ask questions.

Next week's AGM calendar features just one FTSE 100 index company, the medical devices company Smith & Nephew (LSE:SN.).

Smith & Nephew (Wed 14th April)

Pandemic restrictions forced last year's AGM to be held on Sheethanger Common, where the minimum necessary quorum of two shareholders was met by company secretary Susan Swabey and her husband. It was followed by a virtual Q&A session involving directors.

This year's event takes place in the more conventional setting of the FTSE 100-listed company's Expert Connect Centre in Watford, although with shareholders again unable to attend.

The AGM will be the Smith & Nephew's first ever hybrid meeting, meaning shareholders of the medical devices business will be asked to vote and raise their questions electronically.

The 4pm meeting will reflect on a year in which revenues fell by nearly 30% in the second quarter, leading to adjusted earnings per share 37% lower. However, the company still maintained its proud record of paying a dividend every year since it first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1937, with an unchanged payment of 37.5 cents a share.

There were no bonus payments or performance shares awarded to directors in relation to 2020 trading, even though some business objectives were met in the year. The base salary of chief executive Roland Diggelmann is also set to stay the same at $1.5 million for this year.

Last year's AGM saw the company's remuneration policy approved with 97.7% of votes in favour, while there was a similar level support for the annual remuneration report.

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