Q&A Blog Series: Shareholder Engagement in the Age of COVID

The pandemic has fast-forwarded shareholder communications technology in ways that few companies and brokers may have been able to imagine. As Head of Relationship Management, Micki Buffington sees permanent, positive changes ahead as we all adapt to a radically different communications landscape.

In this next post of our Thought Leadership Blog Series, Micki discusses the challenges and opportunities of helping brokers achieve optimal shareholder engagement.

How has COVID affected your support of clients?

Micki: I think that Mediant has been a positive force for these clients during the pandemic. Our branding initiatives and responsive technology are helping companies forge stronger communications channels than ever with their brokers, advisors and their clients.

For example, at the onset of the pandemic, many companies were wondering, "Can we have our in-person meeting or do we need to find another alternative?" This was soon after the debut of our virtual shareholder meeting solution, MIC Digital Shareholder Meeting (MIC DSM). It put us in a great position to be proactive for our clients in a time of crisis.

Turning Chaos into Opportunity

What specific Mediant tools have helped you work effectively with brokers to serve their clients during the pandemic?

Micki: The postal delays during COVID have made it difficult for shareholders receiving paper ballots to stay current with voting deadlines. Mediant coordinated with the SEC to introduce a notice to explain the delayed proxy materials, while ensuring shareholders received the information online about the shareholder meetings.

And did you know that in addition to proxies, clients can receive more than 100 different documents after buying a security? Our multichannel MIC Advisor lets a broker view all document mailings, paper or digital, sent to their clients.

Armed with these ongoing updates, the brokerage can maintain visibility with its clients. They can provide a valuable heads-up about especially important communications, while also helping their clients understand the purpose and importance of these mailings. We’re helping them turn a potentially burdensome experience into a positive relationship-building opportunity.  

How can shareholders access this platform?

Micki: Using MIC Investor, they can see all of their account distributions aggregated on their own dashboard, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on their laptop or smartphone. This means that shareholders who’ve been accustomed to paper notices can now transition easily to electronic delivery. It’s an efficient, elegant solution to a tough problem.

Amid this crisis, the second phase of the EU’s Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) was implemented last September. How is Mediant helping brokers respond to that mandate?

Micki: SRD II is definitely top of mind right now among brokers and has commanded our attention. This directive allows European issuers to request shareholders’ contact information and stock ownership at any time throughout the year. It also requires the intermediary to provide the information, electronically, to an issuer, issuer agent or custodian directly.

The problem is that many U.S. brokers don’t have the time or technology they need to do this well, so we take on SRD II’s technological burden for them. As the provider, we handle electronic notifications to the broker’s clients, while also responding to shareholder disclosure requests from EU issuers. MIC, our integrated technology platform, addresses all SRD II mandates, while integrating flexibly into existing systems at a competitive cost.

Crisis Spurs Fresh Thinking

How do you think issuers can reach investors more effectively?

Micki: Trading has gone through the roof during the pandemic. At the same time, the growing use of trading apps, as well as social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter are showing us that it’s possible to close the digital engagement gap between companies and shareholders.

In a perfect world, companies would continue to allocate time, money and design resources to creating cutting-edge applications that satisfy the demand for quick and easy communications. Overall, I see permanent, positive changes ahead as a result of these and other challenges we’re experiencing right now due to the pandemic.

Despite the explosion of online trading, some of your colleagues have noticed that it’s more difficult to engage younger investors while they’re trading online. Why is that?

Micki: You’d think that they would appreciate technology even more than older investors, right? Overall they do, but I think it’s much more exciting for them to buy and sell from their smartphones, than to fill out a shareholder proxy or take part in other shareholder “housekeeping” tasks. 

So how can you get them to take a greater interest in their role as a shareholder and maybe create another COVID-inspired silver lining?

Micki: All the components of the MIC platform are essential to driving greater shareholder engagement. I think that when this crisis is over, investors trading on their own and those working with brokers and advisors will have become better educated and more engaged in their investments than ever.

Stay tuned for more insights from other Mediant executives on navigating a new digital world.

In the meantime, please contact us with any questions or comments about this post.