Every company listed on the London Stock Exchange should commit to inclusive engagement with investors by the end of 2025, according to a new campaign. The Engagement Appeal (TEA), a social venture set up by a broad group of shareholder representatives and advisers—and with the support of Board Agenda—says more than a million individual investors are currently being short-changed by the engagement efforts of the businesses in which they hold shares.
“We believe that all investors should have an equal voice in how their investments are managed,” said Sheryl Cuisia, co-founder of The Engagement Appeal.
“We need real change within businesses—and effective solutions that meet the needs of both companies and investors, enabling all stakeholders to benefit from corporate decision making,” added Cuisia, who is the founder of engagement consultancy Boudicca Proxy, subsequently acquired by Equiniti, and a former chair of ShareSoc, the group which represents individual investors.
The launch of TEA’s campaign comes amid growing frustration about the failure of many listed companies to engage with a broad range of investors. Official figures show that some 23 million Britons hold shares, collectively owing 12% of UK plc. But the engagement efforts of most companies are largely focused on a handful of their largest shareholders.
Individual investors, depending on how they own their shares, may not even get the opportunity to participate in company votes or to attend company meetings—let alone take part in activities such as the quarterly investor roadshows that many companies host.
TEA’s research suggests this failure to reach out to investors flies in the face of demand from shareholders for more inclusive engagement—and that it is potentially damaging to companies themselves. The issue is particularly pressing, given the growing prominence of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda, TEA argues.
For example, a white paper produced by the group points to statistics from the investment platform Interactive Investor, which saw a 30% uplift in the number of retail investors casting their votes at company meetings when the company made it more straightforward for them to do so.
Groups such as Proximity and BlackRock have also produced evidence of investor demand for engagement. Companies that fail to engage are falling short of good governance standards, TEA believes. They may also be missing the opportunity to identify material risks and opportunities, as well as key ESG issues, potentially leading to a loss of competitive advantage.
Another risk is that disgruntled shareholders begin to agitate for change in a more aggressive way, causing reputational damage. “Disagreements can quickly become very confrontational,” said David Ko, co-founder of the sustainability group Rethinking Choices. “Dialogue is all important and engagement is something that all directors of the company should be prioritising.”
Danny Wallace, co-founder of TEA, urged companies to recognise that more inclusive engagement is in everyone’s interest. “We strive for mutual benefit,” said Wallace, a business founder who has helped the UK Shareholder Association to convene private investor groups across the UK.
“We want our efforts to create a fairer system for everyone involved in the corporate world—from shareholders to employees—by encouraging transparency, collaboration, and responsibility throughout all levels of management.”
We have the technology
To achieve those goals, TEA is urging companies to consult with a broader range of key stakeholders and then to develop new frameworks for engagement with the widest possible audience. It also points to the rapid evolution of technology solutions with the potential to overcome some of the issues companies have traditionally encountered when engaging with individual investors.
Such solutions have the potential to connect companies, intermediaries, share registrars and investors more seamlessly, TEA believes, without adding significantly to the cost and administrative burden relating to investor relations. Addressing companies’ fears about the potential for engagement to require significant additional resources will be central to the campaign’s success, TEA accepts.
Catherine Howarth, chief executive of the campaign group ShareAction, a contributor to TEA’s study, called on companies to embrace new opportunities to engage. “At the moment, we have a democratic deficit, and it is too easy for companies to say that it is too difficult to connect with their investors,” she said. “We’re starting to see technologies and platforms that enable them to reach out.”
“Boards need to know more about the views and preferences of their shareholders,” added Oliver Hart, a Harvard University professor who specialises in corporate governance and who also provided input to TEA’s research. “Too often, the perception is that shareholders who disagree with the direction of the company should simply up and leave; disagreement is automatically seen as hostile, rather than as an opportunity for considered thinking.”
TEA’s Sheryl Cuisia said that companies responding to the campaign’s calls more urgently than their peers would have an opportunity to secure competitive edge. “Companies have the opportunity for early adopter advantage; front-footed inclusive engagement can prevent problems that would cost precious time and money to fix further down the line,” she said. “Simple, cost effective—and potentially revenue-generative—options to facilitate inclusive engagement are available today.”
Widening engagement with individuals, who increasingly include millennial and Generation Z investors, would also provide companies with the opportunity to “future-proof” their organisations, Cuisia argued. Many businesses have little understanding of the values and priorities of younger generations, she warned.
The Engagement Appeal’s campaign was developed with the support of an informal committee of advisers. Members of the committee included representatives of impact groups including ShareAction, Tumelo, Tulipshare and Rethinking Choices, as well as start-ups such as CAUSE and Circular Regeneration, and City firms including Mischon De Reya, Peel Hunt and Sillion.
The campaign has also won the backing of technology firms including Proxymity, Lumi, Investor Meet Company and Pressrisk, as well as Paul Lester, chair of the FTSE 250-listed business Essentra, who is calling on other PLCs to join the movement.
In addition, Board Agenda has supported TEA, working with the campaign to develop its white paper. The Path to Inclusive Investor Engagement – A Roadmap for Mutual Benefit is available here.