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As the sweltering heat of July abates, so too does this year’s AGM season. This season comes after an eventful year in corporate governance, which saw the first ever publishing of gender pay gap figures, as well as reforms to the corporate governance code, and increasing public scrutiny around auditor selection. 

How actively are shareholders using the opportunity to hold companies to account over these issues? What proportion of shareholders have actually been voting, and how frequently do shareholders raise other topical issues? 

Throughout the season we have captured live data on both shareholder voting and the questions in our new AGM Monitor series, providing a unique and comprehensive snapshot of shareholder sentiment across the UK and Ireland. In this final edition, we review the overall results which have been both surprising and predictable, as well as areas that need to be considered in future.

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Voting – in numbers

  • 720 General Meetings analysed
  • 5.4 million shareholders eligible to vote
  • 4.8% of those eligible actually voted on the resolutions proposed, representing 43.8% of the issued share capital
  • Of those who voted over 31% did so using an electronic medium, representing 67% of the shares voted
  • Almost 97% of physical proxy cards issued by companies were not returned.

Shareholder questions – in numbers

  • Data gathered from over 100 client companies’ AGMs
  • At nearly 1/3rd of AGMs, no questions are asked – this figure rises to 47% amongst AIM-quoted companies.
  • Core areas of corporate performance dominate, with ‘corporate strategy’ and ‘financial performance’ the two most common topics of questions
  • CSR and environmental issues appear third in the list of topics; 90% of these questions were raised in the AGMs of FTSE companies.

Breaking this down between constituents has also provided some unique insights. For the FTSE350 companies so far, engagement has spanned from as little as 1.7% to 49.2% of registered shareholders voting by proxy. For AIM-listed companies, the range was slightly smaller, from 0.5% up to 43.7%

The engagement problem

Engagement is currently high on the business agenda as new corporate governance reporting requirements are being put in place to try to improve arrangements for the engagement of shareholders, employees and other stakeholders. These changes are welcomed, but looking at our data it looks like there is some way to go before we can truly say that we have fully utilised or exhausted the engagement potential of the present arrangements. With only 3% of shareholders returning proxy cards, less than 5% of shareholders voting, plus the majority of meetings passing with no questions, shareholders are consistently failing to take advantage of opportunities to influence corporate decision-making.

Is there more that can be done within our existing legal and regulatory framework to boost voting and engagement, especially within the retail shareholder base? The mechanisms are there, but how can shareholders be encouraged to use them?

Read the discussion in in our full update below