Earlier this year, I blogged about some refinements Glass Lewis made to its disclosure expectations for virtual shareholder meetings. Virtual shareholder meetings were new for many last year and this year, expectations relating to information about the meetings are likely higher. For companies short on resources, some may have relied on an if-it-ain’t broke, don’t-fix-it-model, which we’ve heard may have caught some companies off-guard when receiving a Glass Lewis recommendation “against” members of their nominating committee. As a reminder, here’s an excerpt from a Glass Lewis blog entry describing their expectations:
From 2021, our expectations of companies holding virtual meetings globally are as follows:
Glass Lewis believes that virtual-only meetings have the potential to curb the ability of a company’s shareholders to meaningfully communicate with company management and directors. However, we also believe that the risks of a reduction in shareholder rights can be largely mitigated by transparently addressing the following points:
- When, where, and how shareholders will have an opportunity to ask questions related to the subjects normally discussed at the annual meeting, including a timeline for submitting questions, types of appropriate questions, and rules for how questions and comments will be recognised and disclosed to shareholders.
- In particular where there are restrictions on the ability of shareholders to question the board during the meeting – the manner in which appropriate questions received prior to or during the meeting will be addressed by the board; this should include a commitment that questions which meet the board’s guidelines are answered in a format that is accessible by all shareholders, such as on the company’s AGM or investor relations website.
- The procedure and requirements to participate in the meeting and/or access the meeting platform.
- Technical support that is available to shareholders prior to and during the meeting.
We believe that shareholders can reasonably expect clear disclosure on these topics to be included in the meeting invitation and/or on the company’s website at the time of convocation.
In the most egregious cases where inadequate disclosure of the aforementioned has been provided to shareholders at the time of convocation, we will generally recommend that shareholders hold the board or relevant directors accountable. Depending on a company’s governance structure, country of incorporation, and the agenda of the meeting, this may lead to recommendations that shareholders vote against:
- Members of the governance committee, or equivalent (if up for re-election);
- The chair of the board (if up for re-election); and/or
- Other agenda items concerning board composition and performance as applicable (e.g. ratification of board acts).
For resources to help when preparing for virtual shareholder meetings, check out our “Virtual Shareholder Meetings” Practice Area. We have memos about “best practices” and a virtual shareholder meeting checklist to help you through some of the logistical issues.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net April 13, 2021