The Virtual AGM Landscape in 2020

In 2020 Link Group supported our clients to meet their regulatory obligations during the Covid-19 pandemic with our proprietary virtual meeting technology, holding fully online and hybrid AGMs for 640 clients globally. We supported 3 clients whose AGMs were ranked in 10 Best AGMs of 2020.

Link Group managed a total of 393 virtual meetings in Australia in 2020, making it the busiest season on record for our clients and our teams. These included annual general meetings, scheme and extraordinary meetings, annual member meetings and employee town halls. Globally we hosted meetings for clients in the UAE and Papua New Guinea with each jurisdiction providing different challenges for the team.

Over 35,000 people from across the world attended these meetings. Over 7,000 of these were voting holders or members who were able to vote and ask questions, with more than 1,300 questions received virtually.

Long-standing Link Group client, Coca-Cola Amatil Limited (Amatil) hosted their 116th Annual General Meeting (AGM) in May – their first fully virtual AGM – using Link Group’s virtual meeting technology. Amatil’s AGM was the largest virtual meeting in Australasia during the April/May meeting season with 828 attendees joining and participating online from around the world.

Amatil who has historically hosted their AGM as a physical meeting, was in the same position as a lot of other companies, in need of an alternative solution when it was time to plan their AGM. With the ever-changing conditions during COVID-19, Amatil opted to host their 2020 AGM as a fully virtual meeting for the first time to meet their obligations.

Following this, the Westpac AGM in December saw the highest attendance for a virtual meeting in Australia in 2020 with 1,264 participating in the meeting via the online AGM platform and teleconference line.

Clients had to remain flexible and, in many cases, have plan B and plan C in place to cope with rapidly changing health advice and travel restrictions. Overseas board members were able to participate in the meetings remotely via video or audio streams, ensuring full participation in their AGM. Auditors also had the opportunity to join the AGMs online.

Key take outs:

  • Engage with Link Group early on to discuss your meeting format – physical, hybrid or virtual and make sure you have at least a Plan B.
  • Brief your board on the format of the meeting and their role.
  • For speakers participating remotely, test audio or video lines thoroughly – preferably around the same time of day as your meeting, so internet connectivity is similar.
  • Rehearsals are important! - This is an opportunity to run through the format of the meeting, to familiarise board directors on the technology script and make changes so things do run smoothly on the day.
  • Provide Link Group with all details as requested on the ‘Request for Information’ form as soon as possible so we can book in your event.
  • Ensure engagement with shareholders, clarity around remuneration, clear targets, performance metrics and ESG metrics.

As we move further into 2021, it seems the challenges of 2020 will remain with us for some time. We look forward to working with you on your meetings, whatever shape they come in and commit to remaining flexible with any changes that come our way.

Virtual Meeting Case Studies

Case Study: Xero Limited Virtual Annual Meeting

Cloud-based accounting software provider Xero Limited (ASX: XRO) held their first fully virtual Annual Meeting on 13 August 2020, using Link Group’s proprietary meeting technology. Xero, an ASX Top 100 company, has utilised our hybrid meeting technology for their Annual Meetings since 2016.

In response to ongoing global health concerns and rapidly changing travel restrictions, the meeting was primarily hosted from Xero’s offices in Sydney, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand, with directors and CEO in attendance observing social distancing measures. Fellow Xero Board members located in Auckland, Melbourne and London joined the meeting via video conference.

This Xero virtual Annual Meeting reached a new participation record at the time, with 968 attendees taking part, including 32 voting shareholders, 149 general visitors and over 770 Xero employees attending from their offices and homes all over the world.

There were also 21 Link Group and Orient Capital staff involved.

8 questions were received from online attendees who were able to type their questions in real-time, moderated by Xero staff and then read aloud during question time to the online audience by a Xero representative. Live closed captions provided for hearing impaired shareholders The Chair of the meeting was able to answer questions and also direct questions to the appropriate board members for immediate response to the shareholders.

Representatives from both the Australian Shareholders Association and the New Zealand Shareholders Association were online during the event. To ensure a successful meeting, Link Group conducted a fully remote video conference test one week prior to the meeting. This proved vital as New Zealand COVID-19 restrictions implemented on 11 August meant that two Auckland directors were unable to fly into Wellington as originally planned and instead joined via video conference from their homes.

A full rehearsal was held the day before the meeting with directors on site in Wellington and Sydney, as well as directors joining via video conference. The outcome was a very successful meeting; Xero was very happy with the meeting and result.

Case Study: Regeneus Virtual AGM

Regeneus (ASX: RGS) held their Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday 14th October 2020, with the Notice of Meeting released on 11 September, with COVID-19 in full swing.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing requirements, and in the interests of health and safety of shareholders, directors and staff, the meeting was held virtually. The virtual meeting was held at Regeneus' Head Office where the Chairman presented onsite, with the international CEO presenting from overseas. Regeneus has overseas directors from all over the globe, who were available to participate in the virtual meeting.

Shareholders and proxyholders were provided with registration instructions via an online guide to securely connect, vote on resolutions and ask questions during the meeting, which worked seamlessly.

“The meeting was facilitated by Link Group's professional, efficient and experienced team who provided dedicated support of the meeting, on-hand technicians and a live audio presentation operator, who ensured a secure and very successful meeting.

The Link Group team provided a very smooth and efficient process with numerous rehearsals prior to the AGM both before and on the day, which put our Board's mind at ease. The Board was extremely pleased with the result and will certainly consider holding future meetings virtually, as it allows much more participation for our international and interstate shareholders and stakeholders .”

The feedback from attendees was that the meeting worked flawlessly, and it was fantastic to offer inclusiveness to our shareholders and stakeholders to the meeting.

Case Study: Amnesty International Australia Ballot

Amnesty International (AI) is the world’s largest human rights organisation - a global movement of 7 million people across 150 countries.

Amnesty International Australia (AIA) is known as a ‘section’ and is an independent legal entity, registered in Australia, with over 200,000 supporters (members, activists and donors) in Australia. As with all Amnesty sections globally, their work follows the strategic direction of the international movement on human rights campaigns, activism and governance. Within this framework, members in Australia play a key role in setting the section’s direction through participation in general meetings’ democratic processes.

AIA comprises 7 regions, loosely based on state and territory lines. Every member of AIA is linked to a region according to their postcode and each region is headed up by an Activism Leadership Committee (ALC). The ALCs work with the National Board and board committees to inform and set the strategic direction for human rights campaigns and activism.

In addition to running the election to for the ALC, Link Group also runs the direct election of General Meeting Voters (members able to vote at General Meetings).

AIA had the following objectives for their election process and worked with Link Group in 2019 and 2020 to successfully achieve these:

  • Communicate with all members (email and postal) across the 7 regions providing access to nomination statements, together with a secure way to vote in both of those elections
  • Voting of 25% of eligible members in each election per region
  • Accessible and user-friendly online voting systems
  • User-friendly hard-copy voting system
  • Results of elections (hard copy and online) within 7 days of the close of voting and in compliance with the requirements of the constitution
  • Use of the Scottish Transferable Voting system (preferential voting).

Virtual Meeting Checklist

  • Engage Link Group for an initial discussion on the type of meeting to be held:
    • Fully virtual or hybrid meeting (physical attendance and online).
    • Video webcast or an audio and synchronised slides webcast.
    • Do you need video conferencing for your directors to connect – if so, how many locations and where (Australia or international).
    • Do you need a transcript of your meeting?
    • Consider if your speakers require autocue (for video events).
    • Consider a plan B in these discussions in case of changes to health and travel guidelines.
  • Prepare the Notice of Meeting information (with our assistance if required) including:
    • Links to the online platform;
    • Login requirements, and;
    • When your online platform will open for the meeting.
  • Engage us to design your proxy/voting form (this should include details for voting online and proxyholder contacts).
  • Work with us to design your Online Platform Guide.
  • Capture AGM questions from shareholders prior to the meeting (if you do not already) with a question form sent out with the proxy/voting form − utilising our online question functionality. This provides an opportunity to consider recurring questions, issues or themes and ensures responses are carefully considered and if necessary, discussed with the chairman.
  • Provide us with your style guide and colour logos to set up the online platform. Screenshots from this can be used in your Online Platform Guide.
  • Review and customise (if required) the T&Cs on the online platform (seeking your own legal advice as necessary).
  • Consider whether any other documents/guidelines should be prepared, for example direct voting regulations and/or meeting principles/procedures and whether these documents should be available on your website before the meeting.
  • Complete the Request for Information Form (RFI) sent to you by your Client Relationship Manager and return to Link Group. You will need to include high quality images of your presenters so have these available.
  • Send a broadcast email the day before the meeting to remind people to login, view and vote online (optional).
  • Arrange webcast (or audiocast) requirements with us.
  • Determine your moderator for fielding online questions and forwarding to the chairperson. Moderators should rehearse before the meeting and provide a reasonable opportunity for shareholders to ask questions or make comments. (N.B. Moderators will be trained by our staff prior to your AGM and a Link Group staff member will accompany them throughout your meeting).
  • Consider whether to provide a Q&A document for upload to the online platform (from holders’ questions received before the meeting – optional).
  • Book a run through with the moderator and chairperson (if required) so they understand the online question process. This should preferably be performed at the same location where the meeting will take place and using the same technology and devices. There are some processes the chairperson should be familiar with before the meeting, which are different to a physical meeting.
  • Arrange a test or rehearsal (we recommend that this should be the week prior to the meeting date).
  • Provide final presentation slides and chairperson’s script to Link Group.