CORPORATE sector meetings are usually “non-events and dull” but in rare cases the shareholders can display their discontent by grandstanding at an annual general meeting
Such was the case when Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe Ltd (Barclays) shareholders, irked by the stagnant share price and poor services at banking halls, grilled the acting managing director Witness Muchingami at their AGM held last Wednesday.
Unlike other AGMs, which lasted an average of 10 minutes, the Barclays annual event dragged on for more than an hour as shareholders flooded directors with burning questions on various issues.
Muchingami had a torrid time as agitated shareholders quizzed him on the commercial bank’s operations, the “poor and stagnant share price” and services at the banking halls.
The Barclays share price has remained at $26 for a long time now, while other financial counters continue to increase.
Barclays is the country’s second most heavily-capitalised counter on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) after ABC Holdings Ltd.
It is capitalised to the tune of $40,6 billion compared to ABC’s $45,4 billion.
ABC’s share price however, currently stands at $380.
The shareholders’ anger was mostly targeted at Barclays’ prestige banking, which they felt was given precedence over the general facility.
A shareholder asked: “The concept of Prestige Service seems to suggest that the personnel in this facility are better trained than those at general halls. What then happens to poor clients who cannot afford the services?”
Muchingami told shareholders that the issue of customers utilising the prestige banking facility should be accorded real value for money if they could afford it.
He however maintained that the bank was not going to have the facility together with that of general banking.
The director said Barclays had no deliberate policy to put their best staffers in prestige banking halls.
“Our clients are attended by staffers who have the same abilities. The only advantage is that there are longer hours,” Muchingani said.
Another shareholder wanted to know what the board of directors was doing about its stagnant share price, which has been stuck at $26 per share.
“For a long time the share has been hovering at $26, what are the directors doing about the share?” asked one shareholder.
Muchingami said “the directors were also disturbed by the share price”.
He said the directors were looking into the share price with great concern.
He said some analysts felt that the Barclays share price was undervalued.
The shareholders asked the acting managing director why there were long queues at the banking halls.
They said it seems the problems in the banking halls were a result of inefficiency within the banking hall itself.
Although acknowledging that there were indeed long queues in the banking halls, Barclays instead apportioned the blame on the shortage of $500 notes at all commercial banks.
Barclays refused to update shareholders on its latest operations.
Company secretary Andrew Lorimer said the issues raised by the shareholders were going to be presented to the board at a meeting to be held on May 28.
On the demand by the shareholders to have trade updates Lorimer said the bank had to consider the postage costs associated with the trade updates.
Lorimer said: “Banking must be as cheap as possible and the updates will add to our expenses.”
In its inflation-adjusted accounting results, Barclays achieved a pre-tax profit of $2,384 million constituting an increase of 312% over the outturn of $578 million for 2001.
A pre-tax loss of $1,0 million was recorded in 2002, being 55% lower than the loss of $2,245 million for 2001.
Bank chairman Dr Robbie Mupawose said the figures clearly demonstrated that while the historical cost accounting profits were high, they fell far short of the amount required to hold the value of the business in real terms.
He said the bank was now reviewing its products, processes, delivery platforms, infrastructure and internal supportive structures to ensure that its business model met customer needs and demands.
Mupawose said the primary focus during the review process would be the bank’s capacity to invest in low foreign currency content solutions in light of the acute foreign currency shortage.