Online only AGM meetings won’t work

Wednesday, 16 Nov 2016

Listed insurance company CBL has no plans to take its Annual General Meetings into cyberspace, says the company’s Managing Director, Peter Harris.

Mr Harris said that while modern electronic communication was a valuable tool, nothing could replace the opportunity to look someone in the eye, in person.

“Electronic meetings do not enable proper interaction. Executives can hide behind a screen or a camera, which promotes a one-sided conversation,” said Mr Harris.

“You also don’t get a full picture of people’s body language, or hear those little verbal asides – particularly from people who are off camera.”

Mr Harris said even the often-mocked ‘cup of tea and sausage roll’ served a purpose.

“It’s the one opportunity for most shareholders to talk directly to company executives. That sort of informal interaction is very valuable to both groups.”

Mr Harris said he would not rely on virtual conversations for board and client meetings, nor for recruiting key staff; similarly, he believed shareholders should have the opportunity to attend AGMs in person.

Mr Harris said technology was changing constantly, and CBL would continue to review how it communicated with shareholders.

“CBL has shareholders around the world, and it is not possible for everyone to attend the Annual Meeting in person,” he said.

“We currently video our AGM’s and place it on our website, so that absent and overseas-based shareholders can still see the meeting take place. The ideal would probably be some sort of hybrid model that gave shareholders the option of attending in person, online, or in some other way.

“Our priority will always be to make it easy for shareholders, and to give them a choice of how they engage, however ‘inconvenient’ it might be to the company to provide that choice.”