With COVID-19 and its attendant restrictions out of the way, many companies are now back to their usual ways of conducting business. Virtual meetings are fading away, including virtual AGMs and companies are slowly moving back to holding face-to-face meetings. Most economies are also recovering from lockdown setbacks, and offices are now as busy as they were before the pandemic. That notwithstanding, the ‘new normal’ that COVID has introduced to the world is unlikely to leave anytime soon.
Students now attend classes online – at an unprecedented rate – and the acceptance of technology by different sectors of society is at an all-time high. Many companies have to turn to video conferencing for their statutory Annual General Meetings (AGMs) to meet regulatory requirements. This development has opened stakeholders’ eyes to the tremendous possibilities that a virtual AGM affords.
But now that in-house meetings are back and possible in almost every country, should you continue to hold virtual AGMs? This article answers in the affirmative because of the numerous benefits that virtual AGMs afford. Here are some reasons your company shouldn’t stop holding its meetings online.
Benefits of Holding Virtual AGMs
Online AGM Saves Cost
Some of the expenses that physical meetings attract are transport, venue reservation, accommodation, food, and the printing of souvenirs. When combined, these can be significant. As it is mandatory to hold an AGM once a year for most companies, this could really add up to the company’s expenses.
But with a virtual meeting, companies can avoid incurring such expenses. Stakeholders do not have to travel, find accommodation, or even request for snacks because they are probably participating from the comfort of their homes.
The only imaginable cost for an online AGM is the Wi-Fi or Internet connection that shareholders must secure. The organisers, too, may have to subscribe to a premium online tool to ensure the security of such a high-powered meeting. But all in all, this medium saves the company a lot of money that would have gone into planning and holding a physical AGM.
Efficient Time Management
By now, companies would have seen how effective online AGMs are when it comes to managing time. In contrast to in-person meetings, virtual AGMs tend to start right on time, reducing or erasing pre-meeting engagements and other interactions that often cause delays.
Besides this, the automation of voting and other decision-making processes means that the meeting can start and end as scheduled. Many online meeting tools have software for timekeeping and administration, and organisers can set reminders on timers to keep everyone on schedule.
Most Suitable For Foreign Shareholders
Companies with foreign shareholders will find virtual AGMs more convenient for all-inclusive participation. Members who are abroad can conveniently join the meeting online without having to book a flight or make extensive travelling preparations.
Most AGMs would not have all members in attendance because they live abroad or are on an overseas business trip. But with a virtual meeting, companies can eliminate such barriers that have been created by geography. From another perspective, the fact that overseas stakeholders can be a part of the company’s decision-making process can attract many interested foreign investors.
Virtual AGMs Are As Safe As Physical Ones
The concern that many AGM organisers had before COVID made virtual meetings unavoidable was security. Many feared that hackers could intercept their data and monitor their discussions, but many successful virtual engagements from 2019 to now have proved this to be untrue. With the right tools, online meetings are as secure as physical ones.
Some agencies provide virtual meeting tools that your company can utilise. They ensure a steady network, stable electricity supply, and state-of-the-art gadgets that make organising a meeting effortless. You can partner with them and benefit by using their highly secure services.
It Encourages Accuracy & Transparency
Digitally managed events have higher chances than manually managed ones of being accurate. For virtual AGMs, organisers can record all the presentations, discussions, and submissions and review them after the meeting for a catch-up on points missed. Besides, the digital approach that virtual meetings adopt encourages and promotes transparency. Computers are used to count and record people’s votes, and they don’t make mistakes when it comes to computation.
In addition, since members will make decisions behind their computers or tablets, they can do so without undue interference or the fear of someone knowing what their stand is on any item being voted on. Online polls are safe from victimisation because even the organisers might not know who voted for what. And because of this privacy, members will have more confidence to air their dissenting views on the board’s dealings.
Important Considerations Before Continuing With Online Meetings
While the benefits of virtual AGMs are undeniable, some things must be in place before companies can fully benefit from them. Board members or the assigned authority that calls for this important meeting must tick these five boxes before choosing the online route for their next AGM.
- Is the platform we are using comfortable and secure for everyone involved? If it is a platform that has a geographical restriction, it may not be suitable for members abroad.
- Do you have any plans for e-voting, and does each shareholder have an ID or password to access the platform to do so?
- Have you updated the reminders and the proxy materials that members will need for the meeting?
- How do you handle multiple questions or enquiries on the platform? And when addressing members’ concerns, how do you intend to maintain transparency?
- How do you continue to make shareholders trust the process?
You Can Have A Hybrid AGM
Since there are times when some key stakeholders may have to meet physically, a hybrid AGM may be the best bet at such a time. A hybrid meeting is one where a few participants are physically present at the venue, but others join online through the assigned platform.
To ensure that your company does not incur much cost adopting this approach, you should limit the number of those that will be physically present.
Whether it’s out of necessity or because of the benefits, more businesses are turning to the online route for their Annual General Meetings (AGMs). This development is perhaps one of the positives to come out of the pandemic; it has taught the world a new way of doing business.
If your company is still sceptical about holding virtual AGMs, you may want to talk to a corporate secretary service provider. They will help to ease your fears and offer professional advice on the best approach.