17 November 2023 – Rachel Waterhouse, CEO, Australian Shareholders’ Association
The Australian Shareholders Association’s cadre of 120 volunteer company monitors has diligently overseen ASX-listed companies and attended their AGMs, guided by Fiona Balzer, our Policy and Advocacy Manager.
At this point, several insights have emerged from the season:
Strategy and Performance: The majority of companies use the AGM platform primarily to present strategy and performance updates. There has been a noticeable decrease in discussions about supply chain issues, while the focus has shifted towards the impact of inflation and its management.
Safety: Regrettably, the past year witnessed fatalities among employees in certain firms. In response, companies are being more transparent about such incidents and how they are committing to a robust safety culture. It is commendable that safety is not only a factor in management’s remuneration structures, but also that remunerative consequences are applied when safety breaches occur.
The Voice donations: Retail investors have been proactively querying Chairs and CEOs about the alignment of decision-making with the company’s purpose, strategy, and historical decisions, reflecting a heightened scrutiny on corporate governance and donations.
Interconnected Governance: There is a growing trend of shareholder activism against directors who serve on multiple boards, particularly when a governance failure in one role raises concerns about effectiveness in another.
AGM Format: While we have observed a tendency for companies to adopt in-person and webcast AGMs, there is less support for hybrid meetings, which the ASA prefers as they facilitate live interaction and immediate response. We note with concern that not all companies are providing complete access to the full AGM recordings including the vital exchange of questions and answers between shareholders and the board and CEO.
Decarbonisation Efforts: Many entities are publicly discussing their advances towards decarbonisation goals, an area where we anticipate the International Sustainability Standards Board sustainability and environmental disclosure regulation will provide standardised ESG reporting in future years.
Private versus Public Markets: There’s ongoing discourse about the inclination of public companies to transition to private ownership. The outgoing Chair of Telstra, John Mullen, highlighted this trend, suggesting that the appeal might be an escape from the complexities of managing stakeholders, including proxy advisors, stringent ASX listing rules, and the scrutiny of remuneration structures.
As we move forward in the AGM season, with several major banks yet to present, we look ahead to revealing further insights.
In closing, heartfelt appreciation and profound gratitude are extended to the Company Monitoring Chairs, our monitors, Fiona Balzer, and the entire ASA team for their invaluable efforts during this AGM season.