Navigating the pandemic-hit AGM season and beyond

The 2020 AGM season will be one of the most challenging in years.

Social distancing requirements mean shareholder meetings must take place remotely, with less flexibility for investors to pose questions to boards.

There have already been delays to meetings in some instances – our data shows a significant drop in the number of meetings held in March compared to 2019.

This raises question marks about how effectively investors can hold companies to account at these public meetings – but it also emphasises the importance of a dynamic, customisable voting policy and process.

The UK’s Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are currently working on emergency legislation to allow for “closed” AGMs – meetings with limited participants and no direct shareholder presence.

According to a Q&A document issued jointly by the FRC and BEIS on 17 April, and companies have been encouraged to “engage stakeholders prior to, during and following meetings including responding to shareholders’ questions sent in by electronic or other means”.

In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission has published guidance for companies allowing them – in some circumstances – to change AGM dates, formats and locations. It has also specifically encouraged the provision of “alternative means” for shareholders and their representatives to present proposals to boards.

Minerva Analytics has been well positioned to help institutional investors through this challenging period. Our staff transitioned to remote working in mid-March with no disruption to services, all our systems are fully operational, and we continue to provide high-quality research well ahead of vote deadlines as well as seamless proxy vote management.

COVID19 is not the only challenge for investors this proxy season. With the introduction of new ESG and climate change investment regulations, the workload for stewardship teams has increased in complexity as well as intensity.

An actionable voting policy is integral to the stewardship process at any time. We are the only proxy adviser that provides as a standard approach fully customisable guidance and reports based on our clients’ individual preferences.

Minerva’s bespoke voting guidance framework is based on a set of overarching global principles, the foundation of which are the principles of corporate governance set out by the G20 and the OECD. As well as this and other internationally recognised guidance, we take into account regional guidelines and rules to ensure compliance with local market standards for 42 major markets.

To support investors with the new regulations, Minerva’s sustainability voting guidelines have evolved to integrate guidance from UN Global Compact, TCFD, and Transition

Pathway Initiative (TPI). Our integrated sustainability research reports also enable investors to align their stewardship with the UN SDGs.

Our website has more information about our customisable voting policies, proxy voting service, and how we have adapted to the pandemic environment. Despite the lockdown, Minerva has a comprehensive pipeline of developments to support investors with their new responsibilities. If you would like to find out more, we can schedule a Teams/Zoom/GoToMeeting to bring you up to speed on our plans.

In the meantime, we hope you, your families and your colleagues are keeping safe and healthy. Rest assured that Minerva remains available to support you through this difficult period.

Last Updated: 24 April 2020
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