James Moore: Fireworks in store at Barclays meeting


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook Barclays' annual meeting on Friday could prove to be the best fireworks display this side of 5 November, or perhaps 4 July if, like the chief executive, Bob Diamond, you are of the transatlantic persuasion.

The company is used to a good turnout, not least because banks tend to have a lot of small shareholders and are not terribly good at looking after them when they take on the role of customers (as many do).

As ever, though, the really big guns will steer clear. Powerful fund managers like Standard Life Investments, which made a song and dance about voting against Barclays' remuneration report only to back down when offered a rather minor concession, are given privileged access to board members and are welcome to hop over to Canary Wharf whenever they want to have a grumble. So they don't waste their time with AGMs and, with the exception of the occasional pension fund trustee attending out of a sense of duty, most of the investors who turn up will have only a few thousand shares.

Often they will have made long journeys to attend, and as such like the idea of being heard. Sometimes they make good points, sometimes they just want to have a good rant, and who (given all that has happened in banking over the last five years) can blame them.

What is important is that they are at least given the chance to do so.

Critics of AGMs will often argue that they are a bit of a waste of effort, and that executives' valuable time would be better off deployed in overseeing the businesses they are paid enormous sums to run.

They are quite wrong. Surrounded by legions of yes men, modern executives have become increasingly detached from the world in which their companies live. The same is true for non-executive directors, who are often drawn from their ranks and frequently look amazed when their companies run into difficulties with the public.

They may find annual meetings to be a pain in the neck (you only need to look at the expressions on the faces of those up on stage to see that). But AGMs offer them a badly needed dose of reality.