Shareholder communication should be a key element of your strategy if you want to attract and retain investors for your business.
But with shareholders increasingly concerned with the environmental impact of the organisations in which they invest, is it still viable to stick rigidly to the old method of sending your executives out on the road? Indeed, could seeking a new approach in fact benefit all parties?
Table of Contents
2 What should you share with shareholders?
3 Tips for excellent shareholder communications
Communicating online is our default in so many instances today, both professionally and privately. Technology means that we can carry many of our daily tasks from our home offices. So it may be the time to include virtual shareholder communications in your shareholder engagement programme.
Some companies have already started doing it.
On 5th May 2021, UK consumer goods firm Unilever held a virtual shareholder meeting to gain approval for what it called “ambitious emission reduction targets”. The company reported that 99% of investors voted for the policy, which included eliminating fossil fuels from its cleaning products, transitioning to renewable energy and reducing corporate travel – something that becomes achievable through a commitment to virtual engagement.
The benefits of virtual shareholder communications
- Digital engagement means that shareholders can attend more meetings now that they don’t have to worry about booking accommodation and clearing their diary for a day to be able to travel.
- It allows IROs to communicate more effectively about executive directors’ remuneration, corporate governance matters and ESG concerns, for example. They can share their message with all investors at once, rather than drip-feeding the details as they make their way around different territories. All of these tasks can be performed during a simple presentation or even a video call, from the comfort of their home office.
- A virtual engagement platform allows you to ‘take the temperature’ of your investor base and make agile changes to policy, as evidenced in the example of Unilever.
- Using platforms with built-in engagement tools, such as polls and surveys, help investors feel more involved with the running of the business.
- Virtual events such as roadshows allow more access for your investors to the major stakeholders such as your CEO and CFO. It’s better for your executives, too. They do not need to spend time on the road. Instead, they can host more events than they would have done if they needed to travel to appear in person.
- Rather than relying on one executive being fully informed in all relevant areas that investors might want to talk about, a virtual event means that you can bring in a wider variety of speakers to engage with shareholders. Lynn Antipas Tyson, Head of IR at Ford gives an example: “we have several very important product reveals coming up over the next several months and if I was going to go to a conference, I might bring a higher-level person, but I’m going to use the actual engineers who designed the vehicles… so it can be a more in-depth conversation.”
What should you share with shareholders?
Sending regular updates to shareholders about your activities keeps them involved with the business. But you don’t have to wait until your next AGM to be able to do this. Your home office investor communications can contain all the information that you typically send to shareholders:
|Financial statements||Knowing the data behind your financial results allows investors to make informed decisions about their shareholding. It also allows them to vote with confidence on the matters presented to them.|
|ESG performance||There is a surge of activism amongst many shareholders, pushing organisations to commit to improving their environmental, social and corporate governance rating. So, be sure to let investors know which ESG targets you have in place and how well you are performing with regards to meeting them.|
|Executive remuneration||The European Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) obliges companies to allow investors to vote on remuneration policy and remuneration reports. This is of real interest to shareholders, who want to know whether such payments are justified, so being open and honest on this topic is vitally important. The more transparency there is, the more trusted your company will be.|
|Other forms of governance||Investors want to know that a business is sustainable in the long term. They want to be certain the business keeps them fully informed on matters relating to the organisation’s policies on whistleblowing, corruption, risk management, board composition and many other aspects of corporate governance.|
How to move to digital shareholder communications
Take a look at these suggestions for creating a full and effective digital shareholder communication programme.
1. Enable virtual AGMs and electronic voting
Some European countries, such as Denmark, allowed for fully virtual meetings prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the other EU member states followed suit issuing emergency laws brought in locally as a result of COVID-19. Many of these laws will remain even when the current restrictions are removed. You should still check your local legislation to make sure you are allowed to host an online annual general meeting. You should also ensure your articles of association allow this.
In order to run a constructive and interactive AGM, you should find the best platform for your requirements. It should allow investors to watch and listen to proceedings, as well as to ask questions and vote electronically. These systems should be in place to facilitate the level of involvement that shareholders demand.
2. Schedule periodic virtual meetings with key investors
Engagement is not just confined to this yearly meeting, though. In order to truly engage with your key investors, you should check in with them periodically to make sure they are happy with the direction of the business.
To do this, you can make use of an investor CRM tool, which will target those important investors for you and allow you to interact with them on a regular basis. You can update them on topics that you know are of concern to them and allow them to make enquiries about your roadmap or any other aspect of the business.
3. Organise online roadshows
Roadshows remain a key element of a successful shareholder communication strategy. They enable companies to reach out to current and potential investors. Fortunately, there are a number of innovative solutions for carrying them out virtually.
Whether you opt for small, intimate meetings or large group events, you can reach those key investors without your CEO and CFO having to spend weeks on the road. A webcasting platform such as Company Webcast can help you design your online stakeholder communication process the way you want to. With this solution, you can choose between:
- using a professional-looking studio from which you can interact with your investors and prospective shareholders
- live streaming your event from your premises
- conducting a virtual roadshow in a conference call style from your home office, with all participants connecting remotely
4. Keep updating your website and social media
The importance of retail investors has grown at a blistering rate during 2020 and 2021, fueled by the coronavirus pandemic. One theory is that many individual shareholders have entered the market thanks to having more time on their hands and extra disposable income due to not being able to spend on eating out or taking holidays. In fact, the French regulator AMF says that more than 150,000 new retail investors bought stock in blue-chip companies during March 2020. In addition, 70,000 more individuals entered the French stock market during Q1 of 2021, combining to make a record of 18 million transactions.
Retail investors are more likely to research issuers using publicly available information such as their websites and social media channels. This means you should keep these media outlets up-to-date and accurate, dispelling any rumours and untruths that start to float around the internet.
5. Encourage investors to sign up for electronic meeting notices
In order to make the digital workflow easier, you should advise investors to opt in to receiving meeting notices and material via electronic means. This speeds up the process, allowing you to communicate more effectively with those shareholders.
It also cuts costs related to printing and postage, ultimately helping you to reduce your carbon footprint as an organisation.
Tips for excellent shareholder communications
Focus on business strategy
Reassuring investors that you have a plan for the future can ease any fears that they might have. By stating your strategy and outlook clearly, you can get investor buy-in for the roadmap you have in place, lowering the perceived risk.
Set measurable communication goals
You need to work out what you want to achieve with your shareholder communication. Is it to engage so many new investors or is it to talk to as many current key shareholders as possible? Could it be to raise attendance at meetings to a certain percentage of the portfolio? Whatever your plan, set targets so that you can measure your success.
Provide timely and relevant updates
You need to assess the balance between wanting investors to be informed and not wanting to deluge them with updates. The rule of thumb is to tell them what they need to know when they need to know it. Consider whether the communication you are about to send adds value to a shareholder or whether it might be seen as light and, worse, irrelevant.
Deliver the bad news, too
Shareholders crave transparency and this involves telling them what hasn’t worked as much as congratulating yourself on what has worked. By being honest and open, investors know that they can trust your company. Make sure you not only mention the negatives but also your business’s plan to address these issues in the future.
Connect your updates to company performance
Spell out to shareholders how the actions and strategies are affecting the price of the company’s stock. Use clear, measurable data to back your point and show your performance against market trends.
Build a crisis communication plan
With a global financial crisis and a pandemic both occurring over the last decade or so, organisations should be well aware of the need for a crisis communication plan. This gets your side of any negative stories across in times of speculation and allows your executives to talk to the public and shareholders at the same time to avert bad press and rumours. If you do not have this in place, it is essential you build it in order to avoid investors panicking.
Create an interactive experience
Shareholder communication should not be a one-way street. It is all about allowing the investor to engage with the business as much as it is the other way round. Using a tool such as Company Webcast enables you to create a dialogue in which investors can take part in real-time by answering surveys, voting in polls and asking questions of the business representatives. These features that are in-built to the tool allow shareholders to feel engaged in the communication, rather than being passive recipients of information.
What if the shareholder wants to continue receiving printed documents?
Investors have a right to receive shareholder information, meeting documents and other papers in the manner that suits them best, and it makes sense not to exclude anyone from actively engaging. However, the IRO should encourage as many shareholders as possible to sign up for electronic communication rather than its paper form, as this is quicker and less costly to the organisation.
What computer equipment does the shareholder need to receive electronic shareholder communications?
The equipment a shareholder needs to receive electronic communications is very simple. They should have a device connected to the internet, a web browser, an email account and a PDF reader, such as Adobe Acrobat or Preview on a Mac.
How will the shareholder know when to look for new information?
You should send out an email to alert shareholders of new communications. This should link to the relevant documents which they can then download in a PDF format.
In this globally connected world, there is no excuse for leaving swathes of your shareholders in the dark, just because you cannot physically get to their location. You can organise all sorts of online events to interest, inform and engage your investors, including roadshows, Capital Market Days and even online AGMs.
If you want to manage virtual shareholder communications from your home office, it’s worth exploring professional solutions such as CompanyWebcast.