The vast majority of listed New Zealand companies took advantage of being able to hold their annual meetings in person after pandemic restrictions forced most to be virtual since 2020.

But some companies have still chosen remote meetings this time around – despite not having seen their shareholders face-to-face in several years.

Some shareholders aren’t happy about it.

SkyCity Entertainment Group was a key example of this, with the casino operator choosing to only hold a virtual meeting last week. It gave no reasons why a physical meeting wasn’t possible.

Chief executive Michael Ahearne even said in his speech at SkyCity’s annual meeting last week that the company was “very excited” to be moving on from the covid-19 restrictions of the past few years.

Several shareholders were frustrated about the lack of an in-person meeting and didn't hold back.

“We loved to present in-person at the annual general meeting and to hear from the board and management in the theatre and discuss the company’s prospects with directors and management after the meeting,” two shareholders wrote.

They asked SkyCity chair Julian Cook to confirm the casino operator would be holding a physical annual meeting next year.

In reply, Cook said he’d found the last few years of virtual meetings “a little old, as well”.

“We would very much like to have you back in here at some point,” he said.

Another shareholder complained: “I'm not happy that shareholders have been precluded from a face-to-face meeting with directors and management at the AGM.” 

The shareholder was also displeased about the “revolving door” of what they saw as "short-tenure" directors at the company and wanted to know why they should vote for them.

No reason to hide

It’s not just at SkyCity’s annual meeting where shareholders have been voicing their opinion.

Auckland International Airport and Fletcher Building both ran physical meetings in the past few weeks and shareholders said how much they appreciated having the in-person meeting back.

“I want to thank you very much for doing this occasion for us,” one shareholder emotionally told the AIA board. 

“SkyCity for some reason doesn't want to do it.”

A shareholder at Fletcher Building’s annual meeting told the board he appreciated Fletcher having an in-person annual meeting – “unlike companies like SkyCity” – because it gave shareholders a chance to ask directors questions face-to-face.

The NZ Shareholders' Association also doesn’t think it’s good enough.

Chief executive Oliver Mander said he found it fascinating that shareholders were thanking companies for holding physical meetings.

“They shouldn’t have to be grateful for anything,” he said. “That should just be a given.”

Mander said the association supported "hybrid" meetings – both physical and virtual – but in-person meetings were vitally important.

“It's the one chance that shareholders of the company have to actually have a conversation with their directors. Let's not lose sight of that relationship with their directors – and understand what they're doing to support their interests inside the company,” he said.

Mander said there was no excuse for companies not doing both, regardless of their size.

“There are plenty of cost-effective ways to achieve it without having to spend big bucks that some of the bigger corporates do,” he said.

“We would hope a company like SkyCity, especially, would have the means and capabilities to do this.”

NZ Shareholders' Association figures across the 2022 annual meetings up until Oct 31 showed that out of a total of 123 meetings, 56 were hybrid, 39 were held just in-person and 28 only online. 

Mander said covid had hit companies “like a freight train” in 2021 – and even early 2022 – but since then things had changed.

“There's no reason for company directors to hide from their shareholders.”