Saturday 24 March 2018

'Angry, broke and disillusioned', but shareholders hold their fire

Thomas Molloy

MEADHBH Hand got up early yesterday to drive from her home in the capital to University College, Dublin, where Bank of Ireland held the shareholder meeting needed to get approval for its €1.5bn rights issue.

Confused about the bank's request to allow shareholders to effectively pump more money into the bank, the young charity worker arrived 50 minutes early to make sure she could get a spot in the university's car park and a good place inside the O'Reilly Hall where the meeting was being held.

Half way through, the 34-year-old stood up to make a three-minute intervention which seemed to capture the mood of many other shareholders.

Telling the top table that she was "angry, broke and disillusioned", she urged the scores of bank officials sitting in the front rows to turn around and look at the elderly shareholders behind them.

One day, she said, the bank officials would find themselves in the same position as the rest of the hall. It was the first time she had attended a shareholder meeting because she usually has to work on week days.

"I didn't expect to stand up," Ms Hands said afterwards. "My voice was shaking but I was moved by the plight of the old people.

"They would probably have expected to be playing golf or on holidays, but they're here instead. It could be me in 30 years."

Dressed in a bright red jacket, the part-time student added that she "was just coming here for a little information. I need to know whether I should try to scrape together the money" to pay for the rights issue. Without a house, the shares are her biggest asset. After three hours of questions, she still seemed unsure about what was her best course of action.

Ms Hand's doubts were shared by many of the other shareholders in the room -- but there was little sign of the anger that had fizzed and crackled in recent shareholder meetings for both of the major banks.

Apologies were not sought and were not given as shareholders focused instead on when they might see a return of their beloved dividends and a decent jump in the share price.

The bank's chairman, Pat Molloy, was vague on both issues while remaining polite and cheerful throughout the day-long meeting -- which included both an emergency general meeting in the morning to discuss the rights issue and an annual general meeting in the afternoon to discuss other matters.

Agreeing with as many shareholders as possible, Mr Molloy showed just how much the bank's ambitions have changed when he revealed his intention was to create a "very much more prudent, very much more boring institution".

Further signs of change came as he agreed with a shareholder who objected to the bank's use of the title governor for chairman and court for the bank's board.

He agreed such terms smacked of "landlordism" and expressed the hope that the bank would soon be in a position to use the more common terms.

Many of the 300-odd shareholders appeared well disposed towards the chairman -- but less so towards chief executive Richie Boucher.

Zimbabwe-born Mr Boucher, who speaks in short staccato sentences, was even told to "perfect his diction" by shareholder Neal Duggan.

Another shareholder to take a shot at the hapless Mr Boucher and the bank's controversial decision to top up his pension was Matt Ormonde who told the CEO that he should not have taken the job if he was unhappy with the salary. Mr Ormonde's comments drew applause from the crowd, as did his exhortation to the board to "get off your backsides instead of getting rid of people and selling assets".

The meeting ended with what the bank, in a wonderfully Edwardian touch, called refreshments in the conservatory.

There was, alas, no boating in the lake or croquet on the lawn although both sports would have been in keeping with yesterday's rather languid meetings.

The days of shooting parties with chief executives playing the role of pheasants appear to be over -- until the next banking crisis at least.

Irish Independent

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