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Oct 31, 2022

More US companies holding in-person AGMs, study finds

Trend marks reversal of tendency seen during initial phase of pandemic

Almost two thirds (63 percent) of US companies’ AGMs were held in person in the six months to June 30 – an increase from 55.9 percent last year, according to new research. The report from Computershare also notes that no US companies used a hybrid format for their AGM this past proxy season, unlike their peers in other global regions.

Many companies switched to holding virtual AGMs in 2020 and 2021 as the Covid-19 pandemic and related health concerns made in-person meetings difficult or impossible. Governance professionals had discussed the potential for hybrid meetings to emerge, but that format has not taken off.

‘In the US, Computershare issuers pivoted back to in-person meetings, especially when the business could take advantage of an opportunity to showcase its consumer goods or high-cost equipment, such as farming equipment or truck manufacturers,’ says Ann Bowering, CEO of Computershare in the US, in a statement on the findings.

Globally, fully virtual shareholder meetings largely retained their popularity, the report notes, with more than 28 percent of AGMs happening through a screen.

But countries in continental Europe reported a fall in the number of virtual AGMs held this year – down from 72.3 percent in 2021 to 51.8 percent in 2022 – and an increase in the number of physical meetings to 43.8 percent from 25.2 percent in 2021.

Despite this, the percentage of meetings held in person by European companies remains lower than any other region surveyed. This is because preference changes depend on market cap, according to Computershare Europe CEO Kirsten van Rooijen. ‘We saw smaller companies in continental Europe move to physical meetings, while large-cap companies typically stayed fully virtual or brought in a virtual element, especially those with an international board,’ she says.

In the UK, companies gravitated more toward hybrid AGMs, with the proportion of solely in-person meetings dipping by 4 percentage points.

This is due to long-term engagement benefits, says Mark Cleland, Computershare CEO for the UK: ‘The pre-pandemic trend of allowing pre-submitted questions has continued and we’re also seeing shareholders submitting higher volumes of proxy instructions online, which we expect to continue into 2023 and beyond.’