Mega-banks go to great lengths to prepare for annual shareholder meetings because — let’s face it — if someone is angry over a scandal, policy change, acquisition or new CFO, a forum of a few hundred investors and the media is a great place to air their grievances. These banks hire a battalion of professionals to help them plan for every contingency, even going so far as to schedule the meetings in cities far removed from their headquarters to reduce the risks of a shareholder scene occurring.
But regional and community banks have shareholders too, and if you have shareholders you must also host a shareholder meeting — and you’ll probably do it without the help of hired experts. When you’re trying to run a bank and plan a successful shareholder meeting at the same time, you may feel the urge to channel Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy: “Damn it, I’m a banker, not a meeting planner!”
Here are some things to do, or not do, to help make your next shareholder meeting a success:
Don’t Fail to prep for problems
Every bank CEO probably has the same nightmare in the weeks leading up to the annual shareholder meeting — droves of angry shareholders showing up to disrupt the meeting. Or worse, running out of coffee and danishes for the 40 shareholders who show up when you were only expecting 10.
Of course, it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality, but if you know there are potential issues that could draw attention during the meeting, it makes sense to plan for them. Hoping no one will attend or that anyone who does attend won’t bring up the issue is simply bad business. Instead, prepare for what you will say and how you will handle the issues you know are likely.
Make life easier on your team and have access onsite to the live data from your performance management tool (like Banker’s Dashboard) so you don’t have to freeze when you get asked that unexpected question!
Do: Prepare for things to go well, too
Of course, there are probably far more regional and community bank shareholder meetings that proceed without a glitch than volatile ones. Just as you prepare for potential issues, you should also plan for how you will handle the meeting if things go quickly and well.
If you finish early, will you dismiss shareholders early too? Or will you take the opportunity to find out what they’re thinking about the industry, what they want from your bank as an investor and customer, or to tell them about new products and services you’re rolling out this year? Be prepared for every scenario so you aren’t left making tough last minute decisions.
Don’t: Skip the rehearsal
Prior to the meeting, do at least one “dry run” with bank staff and any consultants who will be on hand for the meeting. This can help ensure everyone knows their own role (and everyone else’s), how many shareholders you expect to attend, any issues that may arise and key message points to communicate.
We do these with our quarterly webinars and they’ve become an indispensable part of our preparation. Rehearsal should give you a sense of calm and confidence, knowing you’ve done your best to prepare. They also help you determine, in advance, where things might go wrong so you can plan accordingly.
Do: Leave room for spontaneity.
While it’s good to rehearse and have a script you’ll follow during the meeting, it’s important to also be flexible and allow time to handle any questions or concerns that shareholders bring up.
Stifling spontaneity by intractably sticking to your script can make shareholders resent the rigidity of the meeting — or worse, give them the impression you have something to hide when you fail to address their questions.
Don’t: Be clueless about how many people might show up.
It’s notoriously difficult to predict attendance at shareholder meetings, but it’s critical that you have at least a credible projection of how many people will attend and who they will be. Numbers of attendees will influence everything from the size of the venue you choose to the number of handouts you print, pots of coffee you order and time you allot for shareholder questions.
Do: Send a great shareholder letter that encourages RSVPs.
Your shareholder meeting actually starts with the letter you send out to shareholders to announce the meeting. A great shareholder letter can set a positive, efficient and constructive tone for your meeting. It’s an opportunity to tell your shareholders a little bit about how well you’ve done in the past year, what you’re planning for the coming year and what they can expect from the meeting.
The letter can also be a tool to help get an idea of how many people might attend. Provide an email address or phone number for shareholders to RSVP or to simply ask questions about the meeting.
Don’t: Do the same old same old.
Shareholder meetings have the reputation for either being a powder keg waiting to blow … or dull as dirt. Yours doesn’t have to be either, but if you do the same thing you’ve done every year, or if your script is on auto-pilot, your shareholders will view the annual meeting as same stuff, different year. Boredom can cause low attendance, lack of engagement among those who do attend and may even influence future investment in your bank.
Do: Bring in an element of excitement.
You may not have the budget to stage a spectacle, but adding one element of excitement can elevate the entire event. What you do for excitement will be driven by what you know of your shareholders. Perhaps your small group of family member shareholders would enjoy hearing from a community member who started a successful business with the bank’s help. Maybe your larger group of investors would just be happy with creative refreshments like a top-your-own doughnut bar.
Shareholder meetings can be more than something you have to do to meet the letter of the law. A well-planned and -executed annual meeting can be a great opportunity to boost shareholder engagement, excitement and investment by sharing your good news and demonstrating your ability to manage issues effectively.