Big banks running scared of shareholders in annual meetings
My Friday morning had just one item on the schedule: Goldman Sachs’ annual shareholders’ meeting. Expecting battles over pay, uncomfortable questions from investors and a ridiculous proposal or two, I trudged through a 30-minute snore-fest that should have come with a free cup of coffee.
The pay plan was quickly approved, all directors were reelected and not one question was asked of Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein. Zero. The lack of fireworks may have had something to do with the fact that the meeting took place in Irving, Texas, 1,800 miles away from Goldman’s New York headquarters.
The move has become all-too-common following the financial crisis. Bank executives, who earned beatings from investors in the years following the collapse, are taking their shareholders’ meetings on the road. Four of the six largest U.S. banks hosted their annual meeting outside of their home state, in cities like St. Louis, San Antonio and Tampa.
Most say it’s an effort to meet a different pocket of investors, but the true reason is clear. They want to avoid picket lines and verbal assaults from shareholders and retail customers. Banks may continue their road shows because the plans are working incredibly well.
With five of the six meetings in the books, this season has offered minimal highlights. Like with Goldman, not one Morgan Stanley shareholder asked a question in a meeting that lasted just 20 minutes. Wells Fargo, which had to abruptly end its 2012 meeting early due to raucous clients protesting its foreclosure practices, moved the gathering to Texas this year. While they encountered some picketers, the scene didn’t come close to matching the saga that took place in its hometown of San Francisco two years earlier.
In fact, the only headlines came from Bank of America, which, unlike most competitors, hosted its meeting at its headquarters in Charlotte. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan was grilled over the lack of handicapped parking spots at one branch, chastised for his bonus and even asked what kind of light bulbs he uses. Two shareholders then began yelling at each other, with one ending her diatribe by telling Moynihan that she loved him. “You and my mother,” he responded. “I’ve got two now.”
Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon must be jealous.
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