Proxy Voting in the Digital Age
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Do you own stock in a company that is holding its annual shareholders' meeting this spring at a place or time that doesn't fit your schedule? Visit the investor relations page of the company's Web site and see if it will be webcasting the event. If not, fire off an email complaint to the firm's investor relations contact or take to your favorite social media network to demand a webcast.
The Securities and Exchange Commission currently doesn't require companies to webcast their annual meetings, but many public companies are doing this, and all of them should. In the digital age, there is no reason why shareholders should have to be physically present at their company's annual meetings to monitor what goes on and participate.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of the annual shareholders' meeting for investors trying to make intelligent decisions about where to allocate their capital. Now, let's look at how the rise of the Internet is making these meetings more accessible, and why that's a good thing.
The proliferation of the webcast is the obvious place to start, but this development has a long way to go. Some companies are still not webcasting their annual shareholders' meetings, and many that are only make a live stream available when they should be archiving the recording on their Web site so people can listen whenever and wherever they want.
As digital technology progresses, videos of corporate shareholders' meetings will be made available on the Web, and people will be able to watch the proceedings, vote their proxies and even ask questions from remote locations on devices and sites provided by tech companies like Apple(AAPL) and Google(GOOG) . Voting results will be posted online in real-time, and proxy access will be more widely available. Won't such developments make these meetings less efficient and more chaotic? Yes, they will, but the changes I'm describing are inevitable, and I expect the resulting positives to far outweigh the negatives.
Major corporations have become some of the most powerful institutions in the world, but along with that power comes criticism, and shareholders' meetings are clearly an opportune time for people to voice their criticisms. Annual meetings have always attracted activists pursuing agendas that have little relevance to the interests of shareholders, and the digitization of shareholders' meetings will exacerbate that.
However, the neglect of genuine shareholder interests in the boardrooms of corporate America is a far greater problem than a few digressions at annual shareholders' meetings. Shareholders themselves are largely to blame for this due to their lack of participation, but digital advancements that make the proxy process more accessible and transparent could remedy that.