Japan's Mizuho sees appetite for 'virtual' AGMs in coronavirus era

By Takashi Umekawa and Noriyuki Hirata
Mizuho Financial Group logo is seen at the company's headquarters in Tokyo

By Takashi Umekawa and Noriyuki Hirata

TOKYO (Reuters) - More Japanese companies are interested in holding annual general meetings online due to the coronavirus outbreak, presenting an opportunity for banks that help organise them, the head of Mizuho Financial Group Inc's <8411.T> trust banking arm said.

Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to stem the spread of the coronavirus in major urban areas including Tokyo, giving authorities more power to press people to stay at home and businesses to close.

While the state of emergency is due to last a month, it is unclear how long Japan - like other countries around the world - will have to hunker down and avoid public gatherings. Most Japanese companies are due to hold their annual general meetings (AGM) in June.

"We have already received orders from more than ten companies to hold 'virtual' AGMs in June," said Kei Umeda, who took over as the chief executive of Mizuho Trust and Banking on April 1.

He said the requests for livestreamed meetings were mainly coming from larger companies.

Trust banks are specialist lenders whose offerings typically include asset management and real estate services as well as advisory services, including helping firms prepare for AGMs.

"We are building up the manpower to meet such needs as we expect the number of requests will increase," Umeda said in an interview with Reuters that was embargoed for release on Wednesday.

Under existing regulations, companies have to set up a venue for an AGM and cannot restrict entry to any shareholders who want to attend.

The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, however, have recently said companies can now use smaller venues and limit numbers if their aim is to prevent coronavirus infection. They also said it would be possible to hold an AGM without any shareholders physically present.

Through the service, Mizuho provides a livestream of the AGM, and shareholders can vote on proposals online ahead of the meeting.

Due to regulations, shareholders are not allowed to vote realtime online or propose motions. Umeda said it would be better if more flexible legislation would be introduced to allow that.

(Reporting by Takashi Umekawa and Noriyuki Hirata; Editing by David Dolan and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)