World News

Britain’s banks review annual shareholder gatherings amid virus outbreak

By Sinead Cruise and Lawrence White

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s banks are reviewing how they could fulfill legal obligations to hold an annual meeting for their shareholders if the government follows other nations in restricting large gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Royal Bank of Scotland <RBS.L>, which is due to hold its annual general meeting (AGM) on April 29 in Edinburgh, said it still planned to hold the gathering, but was looking at how it could use technology to allow shareholders to participate remotely.

HSBC <HSBA.L> said it was pressing ahead with plans for an AGM on April 24 in London but that if the government changed its stance on large public gatherings, shareholders could be restricted from traveling or attending.

Both banks said shareholders could watch the meetings via webcasts and vote in advance on the resolutions being discussed, to reduce the need for them to attend in person.

Banks like all public companies are required to hold AGMs, with the size of the lenders’ investor base and the controversy they have attracted in recent years over executive pay, climate change and branch closures meaning hundreds of people attend.

Standard Chartered <STAN.L>, which has its AGM in London on May 6, and Barclays <BARC.L> which is due to host shareholders in Glasgow the next day, said there were no changes to those plans for now, but that they are monitoring the situation.

Britain’s government has not yet formally moved from the ‘containment’ to ‘delay’ phase of its four stage plan to combat the virus’s spread, which could include the cancellation of large public events. The country has seen a steady rise in cases to almost 400.

(Reporting by Sinead Cruise and Lawrence White; Editing by Mark Potter)