In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, hybrid and virtual AGMs have witnessed an astronomical rise. And as more and more companies recognise the added benefits of keeping it virtual, it’s clear that their popularity is here to stay.
Here’s how you can master the art of the remote AGM.
From 0% to 90% in seven years
A recent report by Lumi Global revealed that 90% of global companies were committed to virtual AGMs in 2021. This isn’t too surprising given the ongoing restrictions and continued pandemic legacy, but this is still a strong uptake from the 11% of virtual or hybrid AGMs in 2019. It also shows a dramatic mindset shift, that a group typically hesitant to new approaches has welcomed the remote AGM.
The remote avalanche started in the UK over 2016 when Jimmy Choo Plc conducted the first UK virtual AGM. Shareholders could easily and securely log in to a bespoke app to join the virtual meeting. As a result, the company reported greater attendance and improved shareholder engagement than its in-person AGM the year before.
The following year, a survey by ISCA found that only 36% of respondents considered the current system of AGMs to be valuable to companies. The main suggestions for improvement included virtual AGMs, encouraging electronic voting and holding AGMs when shareholders can attend. Clearly, the AGM was already ripe for digital disruption.
The many benefits of a virtual AGM
In 2016, Jimmy Choo Plc discovered the benefits of increased shareholder attendance and engagement that virtual AGMs offered. And that’s before you consider the savings in time, money and carbon. However, what has surprised many executives about the shift to virtual has been the opportunity to improve governance and collaboration.
As HBR reports, virtual meetings have given rise to “shorter agendas, crisper presentations, more inclusive and bolder conversations, and broader exposure to key executives.”
Digital platforms are growing ever more adept at catering to AGM requirements and now offer tailored Q&A processes that ensure an equal voice around the table. Digital voting is a more transparent and instantaneous process with a complete audit trail. A full record of a remote or hybrid AGM can quickly be taken and distributed for future reference.
These practical benefits sit alongside unintended positives, as Jim Citrin, who leads Spencer Stuart’s CEO practice highlights: “The experience of sitting around a big table can be vastly different depending on where you’re sitting relative to the main speakers. With Zoom, you can see everyone’s faces and eyes right in front of you, which has a huge impact on focus, connection, and ultimately decision-making.”
4 top tips for holding a virtual AGM
Remote AGMs must follow all the formal rules of conduct that govern an in-person meeting. However, for a successful remote AGM, we’ve got a few pointers to help keep things running smoothly.
1. Adopt formal conduct guidelines
Group interaction is a different prospect during virtual meetings and AGMs are no exception. While shareholders might be familiar with conduct during in-person meetings, virtual AGMs require slightly different processes to ask questions and address the board. Consider distributing a set of guidelines ahead of the meeting that outlines timelines, time limits and how questions will be ordered and answered. Everyone is then on the same page and knows what to expect.
2. Carefully consider your online platform
There are now several platforms that cater specifically to virtual AGMs. However, at the very least, you need to ensure that the platform that you choose has the following capabilities:
It is fully secure and encrypted
It has an easy voting function that can display instant results
Can integrate with your current management and conferencing system
Has ample accessible seats
Allows pre-registration and ability to pre-screen meeting attendees
3. Rehearse and practice
Do a dry run with key stakeholders and presenters to ensure everything runs smoothly on the day. Test each person’s internet speed and quality, provide branded backgrounds if appropriate and make sure that everyone is familiar with the platform and features. This will also allow you to run presentations and make sure you are sticking to the timelines laid out in the agenda.
4. Have a Plan B
What happens if the presenter loses their internet connection? Even if you have the Events team running your virtual AGM and the IT team on standby, it’s still worth a Plan B. So when the sh** really hits the fan, you can send details for a snap meeting at the click of a button.
There’s no doubt that the remote AGM is here to stay. And what’s more, with a bit of preparation, it can provide an improved experience for shareholders over the traditional in-person meeting - for a fraction of the cost.
What are the other elements that make an effective remote AGM? Let us know in the comments below!