Shareholder proposals at companies concerned with the environment

Ann Bowering, Head of Issuer Services in ANZ at Computershare

Shareholder attendance at the annual general meetings (AGMs) of Computershare clients in Australia in 2021 was the highest it has been in five years, according to the global financial services company and leading online Annual General Meeting platform provider.

The figures were revealed in the 2022 AGM Intelligence Report released by Computershare in Australia in conjunction with proxy and corporate governance advisor, Georgeson.

26,513 shareholders attended Computershare client AGMs in 2021, an increase of 14.5% with 73.5% joining a virtual meeting, 11.7% attending a hybrid and 14.8% being present.

56.1% of the AGMs of Computershare’s Australian clients were held virtually last year, although there was also an increase in hybrid meetings (5.6% compared to 4.9% in 2020).

Environment a growing concern for shareholders

The report also reveals that 48% of shareholder proposals across all companies in the ASX300 last year were climate related, receiving on average 56.7% shareholder support.

Ann Bowering, Computershare’s Head of Issuer Services in ANZ is optimistic.

“Investor engagement and corporate governance are vital elements in any corporate strategy, and both can benefit from increases in attendance at shareholder meetings.”

“Virtual meetings continued to dominate the AGM landscape during 2021, although more companies elected to hold hybrid meetings to combine the benefits of virtual and traditional meetings and create contingencies for the uncertainty created by the pandemic.”

“In-person events remain popular where restrictions allow them but more shareholders receive communications digitally and vote at meetings via personal mobile device.”

“Computershare’s online and hybrid AGM technology enables clients to organise meetings that best suit their circumstances, shareholder base and overall corporate strategy.”

Andrew Thain, the Country Head and MD of Georgeson in Australia shared his views.

“We will see an increased expectation from investors on detailed disclosures aligned with the Task Force on Climate‑Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) that holds companies accountable.”

“Company boards need to identify and address gaps to these key frameworks, laying out their future plans and continually engaging with their investor base well ahead of the AGM.”

The report shows that one in five shareholders of Computershare’s Australia-listed clients used a personal mobile device to vote during online Annual General Meetings last year.

Shareholders using traditional paper voting fell 15% between 2019 and 2021, from 38% to 23%, with 77% of votes for Computershare clients’ meetings being submitted online.

Computershare said the temporary legislation that currently enables Australia-listed companies to hold virtual or hybrid gatherings with some qualifications is due to expire on 31 March.

However, the Corporations Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament, could provide virtual AGMs with a permanent legal status subject to certain conditions.

Protest votes, pay ‘strikes’ and diversity

The report also shows that:

  • The number of companies across the ASX50 receiving pay ‘strikes’ — or votes against proposals to increase executive pay — increased by five to seven during 2021.
  • Protest votes across the ASX300 against individuals fell by five (26 to 21) during 2021.
  • Shareholder proposals were voted upon at 20 companies, six more than in 2020.
  • Board diversity will be key for proxy advisors, investors and companies this year, and companies without enough female board members will continue to experience scrutiny.
  • Diversity beyond gender will be a significant focus for some investors during 2022, with some proxy advisors and investors assessing how closely a company’s board reflects its workforce demographics, including factors such as ethnicity and age.

AGMs by sector and state

The report also shows that:

  • Computershare clients in the healthcare (88.7%) and financial (79.2%) sectors held the highest number of virtual AGMs respectively during 2021.
  • Clients in the materials (61.2%) and energy (46.3%) sectors held the most in-person meetings, and utility company clients held the highest percentage (10%) of hybrid meetings.
  • The state of Victoria held the highest percentage (86.4%) of virtual meetings, while the largest proportion of hybrid meetings (10.2%) took place in Queensland.
  • The highest proportion of in-person meetings were in Western Australia (71.2%).