Covid-19 said to drive ‘step change’ in corporate access
Covid-19 is driving a major change in attitudes toward virtual meetings and will have a lasting impact on the corporate access industry, according to panelists on a recent webinar hosted by Corporate Secretary sister publication IR Magazine and OpenExchange.
Companies and investors have rapidly shifted to virtual meetings to maintain contact during stay-at-home restrictions put in place around the world. In a sign of the change in behavior, OpenExchange, a video exchange platform used by the financial community, conducted more meetings in the first quarter of 2020 than in all of 2019.
Speaking on the webinar, Mike O’Connor, global head of access strategies at Citi, said the changes brought about by Covid-19 would push up the use of virtual meetings over the long term.
‘Physical is not gone,’ he said. ‘But when I look at the number of virtual meetings as a proportion of our total global corporate access over a year, where it was previously 10 percent-20 percent, I think we will reset at at least 20 percent-30 percent, and it starts to grow from there. So I think this is a meaningful step change with virtual.’
Citi’s corporate access team started using virtual meetings in a meaningful way four years ago, O’Connor noted. ‘The initial idea we had was that the demand for meetings between corporates and investors would be higher if the meetings could be done on a more timely basis,’ he said. ‘We developed the concept from there, adding in virtual elements to existing physical events, and then we started doing small virtual-only events.’
In 2016 the team organized 4,000 virtual meetings, a figure that grew to 10,000 in 2017, 17,000 in 2018 and 30,000 last year, O’Connor said.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, Citi had to make its corporate access schedule fully virtual up to the end of June, a period that included 23 already planned investment conferences. ‘Every conference, every roadshow, every trip, every event – we changed to virtual. And that was globally,’ O’Connor said.
Panelists said the Covid-19 restrictions have helped people get over the fear factor of using video for corporate access and other financial communications. They have also opened people’s eyes to the potential cost and time savings of meeting via video rather than in person.
‘A lot of people are suddenly realizing that video brings huge productivity gain, which I don’t think is going to go away,’ said Tom Hinton, head of issuer services at the London Stock Exchange.
He added that it will be harder to justify large travel budgets now companies know what can be accomplished with video: ‘It’s going to be difficult in a post-Covid-19 world to justify traveling to Asia for a meeting, which probably is essential but maybe there’ll be more questions around whether you need to spend that money to go there.’
For sell-side firms, one of the biggest complications of the Covid-19 restrictions has been how to deliver investment conferences in a virtual way. These set-piece events typically feature hundreds of one-on-one meetings alongside presentations, fireside chats and networking opportunities.
‘The first firm to approach this was JPMorgan in Asia back in late January, when the virus had just really started to hit,’ OpenExchange CEO Mark Loehr said. ‘It was quite daunting to think we could do 200 meetings in two days – and now we’re doing 100 meetings an hour for some of these things.
‘The trickiest part is the transition between the end of one meeting and the beginning of the next, to make sure nobody invades the other side and you don’t have that uninvited process. Our background has allowed us to scale that out.’
Although O’Connor views virtual meetings as a growing part of the corporate access mix, he predicted a ‘tailwind’ for physical meetings once Covid-19 measures are relaxed. ‘There’s going to be a resurgence of human interaction and spirit when it is all safe to do so,’ he said.