It’s difficult to find a word that would do justice to Ninety One’s annual general meeting, which was held last week.
Something along the lines of ‘shoddy’ or ‘shabby’ might come close. It certainly wasn’t what you might expect from a powerful, active global asset manager “dedicated to delivering compelling outcomes for its clients” and that manages almost $200 billion in assets.
Early on in the meeting, CEO Hendrik du Toit assured those in attendance that interaction with shareholders is very important to the board. But this was not the case for South Africa-based shareholders, who were only provided with audio access to the meeting, which was held in London.
“Why can I only see slides and not Hendrik?” asked one shareholder early on in the meeting. (All questions were read out by the company secretary.)
She was told, by Du Toit, who was in London, that they had decided not to provide a video link because “we’ve seen too many other meetings where an error disrupts the meeting because of the video work, and voice worked perfectly well last year … so we’ll stick to this format because it’s tried and tested,” said the CEO of a financial institution that should be comfortable at the cutting edge of technology.
Apart from that, the only questions raised were by NGO shareholder activist Just Share.
Towards a ‘better tomorrow’
Just Share’s questions related to issues that are certain to become increasingly critical over the coming years – diversity, the wage gap, and investing in carbon-intensive companies.
In general Du Toit contended that Ninety One is doing very nicely on all fronts and reminded those in attendance that the group’s purpose is to “invest for a better tomorrow”.
The board agreed with the concerns raised by Just Share, with Du Toit pointing out that five years ago the NGO community was far ahead of “where we were” on environmental issues. He believes business, and in particular the financial sector, has shifted significantly but stressed that this change in approach is not a once-off process but an ongoing transition.
It also appears from the results of the voting that Ninety One’s shareholders are fully supportive of their board.
All but three of the resolutions received backing from well over 90% of shareholders.
The three resolutions that received less than 90% all related to its authority to issue shares.
The resolution seeking approval for Ninety One’s climate-related financial reporting received an impressive 97.38%. However, an unusually hefty 7% of shareholders abstained, with one citing the “weakness” of that reporting.
By the end of the week, there was still no sign of the detailed account of the meeting promised by Du Toit, only the results of the voting.
Ann Crotty does occasional research for Just Share.