By John Revill
ZURICH (Reuters) – Online voting at annual shareholder meetings (AGMs) has jumped since the coronavirus outbreak as investors shun large gatherings because of travel restrictions or fear of infection, Swiss tech firm Sherpany said.
The company, which counts Swiss giants Novartis, Nestle and Zurich Insurance among its 300 clients worldwide, provides a secure internet platform which lets shareholders vote on motions until the day before AGMs.
“We have had a big increase in usage so far, and the AGM season is only just beginning,” Sherpany Chief Executive Tobias Haeckermann told Reuters.
“At this year’s Novartis AGM, we saw the amount of votes being sent through our system increase by 42% compared to last year,” said Haeckermann, one of three founders of the company set up in 2011.
“We don’t know if coronavirus is the only factor behind this, but it is helping.”
Voting via secure online platforms is becoming increasingly popular, with companies such as Lumi, POLYAS and Simply Voting offering similar services.
In a move to contain coronavirus, Switzerland last week temporarily banned events with more than 1,000 people, which has made planning difficult for companies as the AGM season kicks off in earnest this month.
Bell Food Group which makes and distributes meat products to supermarkets, has postponed its March 17 AGM, while food and beverage company Orior and Hypothekarbank Lenzburg have delayed their events also due in March.
Zurich Insurance advised shareholders to vote by proxy and stay away from its AGM. Other Swiss companies such as engineering group ABB and insurer Swiss Life have said they are closely monitoring the situation.
“There is a big question mark about what you do with an AGM if you expect more than 1,000 people to take part,” said Haeckermann, referring to the Swiss ban on large gatherings.
“This is not just true for Swiss blue-chip companies but also many of the smaller ones who have a large retail shareholder base,” he said.
Sherpany, which employs 110 people, works via a licensing model in which companies are charged according to how many shareholders use its platform for online voting.
Haeckerman said company boards and executives had also been using Sherpany’s remote meeting platform more this year.
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by David Clarke)