By Ross Kerber
BOSTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc, which makes the software behind many virtual shareholder meetings, said it will support competitors so the events can run more smoothly after some rocky moments in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the move may help rivals, Broadridge, as the largest recordkeeper of shareholder information, has more to gain if online meetings gain wider acceptance, Cathy Conlon, vice president of strategy, said in a recent interview.
"From our perspective those considerations are more important than maintaining a competitive advantage," she said.
Activists focused on environmental, social and corporate governance issues say the digital format of virtual meetings can make it hard for them to hold companies accountable, especially since Wall Street's big institutional investors get access to top executives all year long.
Broadridge has developed application programming interfaces that will be able to confirm the identities of shareholders logging on to meetings run by rivals such as Computershare Ltd and American Stock Transfer Trust Co (AST), as well as at Broadridge's own events.
Technology updates will give investors more options to speak or view executives, if client companies use those settings, to address concerns that some "are hiding behind the technology," Conlon said.
A spokeswoman for Computershare had no comment on Broadridge's strategy. Representatives for AST did not respond to messages.
Broadridge says it will have hosted about 2,000 online gatherings this year by Dec. 31, up from 326 such meetings in 2019, as companies canceled in-person events. Computershare hosted 590 shareholder meetings in the United States and 2,000 shareholder meetings worldwide in 2020, the spokeswoman said.
Shareholder gatherings have drawn more attention as investors vote on directors and proposals on topics like executive pay and climate.
Critics of the online meetings had brought complaints to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An SEC representative declined to comment. (Reporting by Ross Kerber Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)