30 March 2020Insurance

Coronavirus prompts insurers to rethink annual shareholders' meetings

The ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced insurers to make changes to their annual shareholders' meetings this year, either by delaying or adapting the format of the meeting, following restrictions on public gatherings in almost all countries.

Given the extraordinary circumstances, French reinsurer SCOR has postponed its AGM to June 30, 2020, which was initially set for April 17. The announcement comes after its activist investor CIAM strongly criticised the company's move to hold its AGM earlier than previous years instead of managing the COVID-19 situation.

Re/insurer AXA has "exceptionally" decided to hold its AGM on April 30, but without its shareholders being physically present. "We are facing an unprecedented sanitary crisis and we must all play our part in limiting as much as possible the spread of the Covid-19. These extraordinary circumstances made us decide - exceptionally – to renounce to welcome the physical presence of our shareholders at AXA’s Shareholders’ Meeting this year. Despite this constraint, I would encourage shareholders to vote massively by correspondence and to send any written questions they may have in advance of the Meeting," said Thomas Buberl, chief executive of AXA.

Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance Group and Swiss Re have also adapted the format of their shareholders meetings following restrictions imposed on public gatherings by the Swiss Federal Council.

Swiss Re has asked its shareholders to vote on April 17 in writing or electronically via the independent proxy as they won't be able to attend this year's AGM in person.

Similarly, Zurich has asked its shareholders to exercise their voting rights by providing instructions to the independent voting rights representative electronically or in writing. The company will hold its annual general meeting on April 1 but without any shareholders present.

“We regret not having the opportunity to interact with our shareholders directly, but extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and we will play our part to protect public health,” said Zurich chairman Michel M. Liès.

In Italy, the European epicenter of the outbreak, insurer Generali will conduct its AGM without the physical participation of the shareholders on April 27. Members of corporate bodies will be able to participate in the meeting via video conferencing.

German reinsurer Munich Re is expected to hold its annual general meeting on April 29, but it will limit the number of people present in person. "The most reasonable course of action would be to hold the Annual General Meeting as a purely online event with no physical attendees. Unfortunately, this is not possible by law," it said. "We will
also be heavily amending the procedure at the meeting to take into account the accompanying risks. That is the only way that we will be able to pass the important resolutions, for you and for the Company, which are necessary in order to pay out "

Bermuda-based Argo Group has also announced that it will not hold its 2020 Annual General Meeting in person and will instead do it in a virtual format on April 16.

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