Hong Kong-based corporate services provider Tricor Group has launched an online platform for listed companies to safely hold general meetings virtually amid the Covid-19 pandemic, hoping it takes off in the same way as the Zoom videoconferencing software.
Tricor’s “SPOT” electronic meeting system allows shareholders of listed companies in Hong Kong to view the live broadcast of the general meeting, participate in voting and submit questions without being physically present at the venue.
“The digitalisation of AGMs [annual general meetings] is an unstoppable trend,” said Joe Wan, CEO of Tricor Hong Kong on Wednesday. “With proper education and proper technology, this will become the norm over the next few years. Covid-19 has changed the behavioural patterns of many people.
“Although Zoom is very convenient, shareholders can’t exercise their right to vote [virtually]”, he added.
The digital platform has been developed in collaboration with technology giant Microsoft, video technology company TFI Digital Media, City University of Hong Kong and telecommunications and internet services provider 3 Hong Kong.
Shareholders can virtually attend the AGM through a designated hyperlink or by scanning a QR code. They can then use their individual username and password to log on to the system to view the live streaming of the meeting, type out and submit questions on the platform, and vote using the interface, said Wan.
Up to 10,000 users can vote at the same time, he added.
The idea for the project had been conceived at the end of last year to allow more shareholders to participate and vote in company AGMs, especially those situated overseas, according to Wan.
There were many video conferencing platforms out there, but they did not allow shareholders to vote, he said. “We wanted to encourage shareholders’ participation by providing a streaming platform where they can safely and securely vote” in general meetings, said Wan.
But with the outbreak of Covid-19, the company decided to speed up the development of the platform and managed to launch their product half a year earlier than planned.
Since their soft launch in May, some 20 companies have used SPOT to hold general meetings, including Lenovo, which conducted their AGM last Thursday using the platform.
“The live broadcast option can broaden the reach of the AGM to shareholders who do not wish to attend physically due to concerns on attending events under the current Covid-19 situation, or for other overseas shareholders who are unable to attend in person,” Lenovo said in an exchange filing late last month.
However, Wan said that there were legal obstacles for certain companies to adopt their product, particularly those registered in jurisdictions which require physical meetings.
“Many Hong Kong-listed companies [are registered] in Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, in Hong Kong or other places,” said Wan. “Some jurisdictions require physical meetings, so companies may need to amend their articles of association and regulations to allow shareholders to take part in meetings using electronic means.”
According to a joint statement by bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing and regulator Securities and Futures Commission in April, listing rules “do not impose a requirement as such on the format of general meetings.” However, “listed issuers are reminded to comply with applicable laws of their jurisdictions of incorporation and their constitutional documents”.