Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How in-Person Shareholder Meetings are Becoming a Virtual Pleasure

Virtual-only shareholders meetings are all the rage, though some large investors aren't impressed.

As annual general meeting season gets into full swing, so do the usual questions about their value. In theory, they give CEOs and other company leaders a chance to meet with mom-and-pop investors face-to-face. But in reality they can turn into boring and frustrating affairs, as proceedings are hijacked by individuals or interest groups with self-indulgent, long-winded or irrelevant questions and protestations.

CEOs wanting to take more control could consider going virtual. According to investor communications company Broadridge, about 250 companies are expected to conduct their meetings via audio or video platforms in 2017, up from 155 last year and just 26 in 2012.

Among them is Duke Energy, which caused a stir last month by scrapping in-person meetings. “The live webcast will greatly increase our shareholders’ access to the meeting, making it easy and inexpensive for them to participate,” CFO Steve Young said at the time.

Saving money is an obvious benefit for hosts, too, and not just regarding the cost of a venue. Shareholders also expect refreshments, perhaps even lunch. Some companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, provide them with a gift.


Detractors argue that virtual meetings allow managers to dodge difficult questions and avoid facing up to protesters. And while big institutional investors regularly get to meet with CEOs behind closed doors, the AGM is one of the few chances for smaller shareholders to observe management in the flesh and have their voices heard. The apparent benefits cut both ways: CEOs could learn a few things, too.

But all that hasn’t stopped the likes and Ford and ConocoPhillips from also deciding to make their meetings virtual-only affairs.

They may have been emboldened in December, when the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled in favor of HP, telling the computer company it could drop a shareholder request to hold a vote on reviving in-person annual meetings.

Of course, a company’s capacity to take things online also could have a lot to do with the views of its largest investors. Some pension funds, such as CalPERS in California, oppose virtual-only meetings. Crossing them could sour relations.

“Companies should hold shareowner meetings by remote communication (so-called ‘virtual’ meetings) only as a supplement to traditional in-person shareowner meetings, not as a substitute,” is CalPERS’ official position.

Few other investors appear to have taken a public position on the issue, though the proxy advisor Institutional Shareholder Services has indicated it may call companies out if they suspect they’re using virtual-meeting technology to muffle shareholder discussion.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.