FT: US Companies embrace virtual annual meetings

March 12, 2016

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Dressed in spandex, brandishing a whip and holding a sign that said, “Bankers need a spanking.”, Marni Halasa protested outside Citigroup’s annual meeting in New York in 2013. A year earlier Wells Fargo’s annual meeting in San Francisco attracted hundreds of activists in the streets outside and a smaller number, who bought shares, disrupted the meeting from within.

Suddenly, the attractions of hitting the road grew. JPMorgan Chase graciously laid on water and portable toilets for any protesters who wanted to sit in a pen outside its annual meeting in the outskirts of Tampa. Few did. Wells Fargo decided it would visit Texas; Citi has ventured to St Louis; Goldman to Salt Lake City. No major US company is believed to have selected Antarctica. But now they don’t have to. In those San Francisco protests, Mother Jones magazine interviewed one protester who explained her presence: “It’s about doing things in real life, like, physically.” Which suggests a workaround. An increasing number of states — including, notably, Delaware, where many companies are registered — now allow “virtual” meetings. Here is the best part — moving from a conference centre to the internet allows you to boast about improving shareholder access. Now investors can submit questions online from anywhere in the world! They can vote at the push of a button!

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