Leading Dutch companies are participating in a pilot programme to launch an electronic communications channel for shareholder information. The programme, known as the Shareholders' Communication Channel, is being executed by Investor Communication Services Europe (ICS Europe), a business unit of Automatic Data Processing, with the cooperation of major Dutch banks and a unit of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
The Channel enables participating public companies to send corporate information such as annual reports and proxy materials directly to shareholders at their homes or other designated addresses, and to conduct a formal proxy voting process.
Eleven Dutch companies recently trialled the service, including ABN AMRO, Aegon, Akzo Nobel, Buhrmann, Royal Ahold, Royal Nedlloyd, and Unilever. In addition, Royal Philips, Royal Shell Petroleum and Wessanen used the Channel for non-proxy communications. A total of approximately 260,000 shareholders received communications during the Spring 2000 Annual Meeting season that ended recently. The seven companies that used the Channel specifically for their shareholder meetings were able to reach some 130,000 investors representing a total of 114 million shares of stock.
Unlike the US, where shareholders have long been able to vote in absentia by sending in properly executed proxies on paper or (more recently) electronically, shareholders in many European countries may only vote in person or by designating an authorised person to attend a shareholder meeting on their behalf. However, a new Dutch law now permits mailed proxies and allows participating companies to set Record Dates for voting entitlement. Previously, the Netherlands had no process for proxy distribution or voting mechanisms for bearer shareholders, whose records are held by banks.