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Spark shareholders against virtual AGMs

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/11/2016 Fiona Rotherham

Spark's intention to move to a virtual-only annual meeting next year raised the ire of shareholders attending this year's one in person in Auckland on Friday.

Chairman Mark Verbiest said as the country's leading digital services company, Spark intends to take a leadership role in what it regards as "the inevitable transition to virtual shareholder meetings".

"The reality is in today's world all procedural aspects of the traditional shareholder meetings can now be virtualised, at considerably less cost to companies and to attending shareholders in terms of travel, and at considerably more convenience to those shareholders who live elsewhere and cannot attend (which is the majority of our investor base)," he said.

But the proposal met strong opposition from many of the 130 or so shareholders who turned up at the annual meeting in Auckland, including the New Zealand Shareholders Association, which favours continuing the current hybrid model, where shareholders can participate online through their computers or mobile phones or physically attend.

"Hybrids are the way of the future," said association chairman John Hawkins.

He said the move to a virtual meeting was discussed two years ago with the Spark board but the association thought it would be a retrograde step.

"That view hasn't changed," he said. "What it signals is a disenfranchisement of shareholders who don't have access to or are not comfortable with using modern technology."

Z Energy is the only other NZX-listed company considering holding virtual-only meetings, due to poor attendance, and Verbiest said shareholder attendance at Spark's annual meetings has declined by 30 percent in the past five years.

About 90 listed companies in the US have now moved to fully virtual meetings, Verbiest said.

He assured shareholders their views would be taken into consideration before a final decision is made but after the meeting said moving to virtual meetings "was inevitable and sensible".

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