Going online in lockdown has levelled the playing field for investors

Until several months ago, my father thought Zoom was a rocket lolly for the kids.

Paul McManus, MD of Walbrook PR
Paul McManus, MD of Walbrook PR

Now it seems that everyone, young and old, has used Zoom for catching up with family, holding weekly quizzes and online cocktail drinks, which has given birth to the ‘quarantini’. It certainly is the case in business that in the lockdown companies and individuals, regardless of preference, have had to operate through the seemingly trans-mundane world of online conferencing.

For businesses, activities ranging from general meetings and investor conferences, to team coffee breaks, all take place over video conferencing software. Back in the normal world the transfer of nearly all operations to this method would have been perceived as a risky manoeuvre for maintaining performances, social lives, corporate relations and ongoing business.

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Yet the arrival of the lockdown placed companies in a position to operate almost entirely through it. The lockdown however, while presenting huge challenges in many ways, has also proven the potential of these mediums.

Online conferences have certainly transcended the ‘stress-test’ of lockdown to have a lasting effect on the way companies operate with themselves and their stakeholders.

March would be a month to remember for online conferencing app producers. The NASDAQ listed Zoom most notably saw their daily users jump from around 10 million in December 2019, to 200 million in March and 300 million a month later, and daily downloads in March were at a colossal 2.1 million compared to 56,000 in January.

With this level of popularity and the desire to maintain a scale of ‘normality’, companies and their PR advisers took to the software to maximise interaction with their investor base. The investor access scene became entirely digitalised with companies now delivering their results and investor presentations online, granting, at the cost of

a human atmosphere, a much cheaper and time effective presentation.

This is not to say that these remote presentations denied viewer interaction. Hosts can set up calls enabling participants to ask questions to the company individually, record the call and upload the call to the public domain for those who were not able to dial-in to the presentation.

From an investor relations perspective, it presents a great opportunity for companies to ensure a blended communications plan with both physical and online presentations. While the personal touch of meeting a major institution in a London conference room certainly has an appeal, the UK’s wider investment community are not based in London. Geographic limitations prevent smaller investors from attending a centralised presentation, and companies based outside of London end up having to fork out extra travel costs, on top of the considerable hospitality costs, to host these events.

The coming of age of online conferencing enables companies to reach a far wider retail and institutional investor base, and also more potential investors nationally and internationally.

Online conferencing also oils the corporate governance cogs. The introduction of Section 172 of the Companies Act in 2018 demands greater levels of accountability to stakeholders, and these online tools are an ideal solution.

If shareholders agree, companies can provide greater access through online AGMs and GMs, as well as investor presentations and regular Q&As.

Professional online conferencing services have seen a gap in the market and have also heightened during the lockdown. Investor Meet Company, which launched at the beginning of the year, provide a professional hosting and recording service for investors, and the London Stock Exchange Group are branching out, with their newly

designed website and an in-house live-streaming service for company presentations.

Long gone are the days of a once-a-year only interaction with management in a hotel function room, over a cup of tea and a curled-up sandwich. There are no excuses for companies to avoid using these technologies to level the playing field for investors and embrace a wider audience beyond those who can make it to a room in London.