Lloyds Comes Face to Face With Shareholders After Covid Break

Shareholder meetings are back with a bang.

Lloyds Banking Group Plc’s annual meeting in Edinburgh had barely begun Thursday when one investor stood up to make a volley of accusations against the board, including new chairman Robin Budenberg.

Budenberg briefly adjourned the meeting after 15 minutes -- the rowdy investor shouting “get off me, you’re too close to me,” as security hustled him out of the hall. The chairman apologized to less than 100 shareholders attending in person, alongside the others who chose to stick with the Covid-era online video stream.

The new hybrid format for a mainstay of U.K. corporate life comes at a “challenging and redefining period in British history” that underlines existing inequalities in the country, Budenberg said once he restarted his speech. A provisional count showed that investors passed all resolutions, he added.

Before the pandemic, London-listed firms hosted cavernous annual meetings that gave investors a chance to present detailed questions to their boards -- as well as the occasional insult. Climate protesters, consumer pressure groups and TV personality Noel Edmonds were among attendees at bank AGMs in recent years, before limits on socializing and travel forced meetings to go online in 2020. Now, the U.K. is lifting curbs as vaccination rates soar.

HSBC Holdings Plc said Thursday it will allow “a limited number” to join its meeting in central London on May 28, while strongly encouraging most shareholders to stay away. Those who attend will need to take a rapid Covid-19 test at the venue.

The usual AGM trappings are still suspended for now. “No refreshments will be offered and there will be no mingling before or after the AGM,” HSBC warned.

According to the Financial Reporting Council, Jimmy Choo held the U.K.’s first wholly virtual AGM in 2016. Governance groups including the FRC have stressed the need for businesses to keep engaging with shareholders during the pandemic.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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