Want a free sandwich? Here's how to vote

If you're a shareholder in Alliance Trust, make sure your voice is heard, says Merryn Somerset Webb. Here's what you need to do.

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If you are a shareholder in Alliance Trust you will be wanting to vote at the forthcoming AGM. If you aren't sure why, you can read my latest post on the matter (for the record I think you should vote for the new directors, but that's up to you). But I'd also say that this particular vote is about more than just the troubles at Alliance Trust.

For years now, the level of retail shareholder engagement with the firms in which we invest has been falling. Now that we hold our shares in Sipps and Isas via the various cheap and efficient platforms in the market, we don't hold shares directly, so we don't get the information we used to about the various votes we can participate in. So we don't go to AGMs, and we don't vote.

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This matters: if shareholders aren't keeping an eye on company management, who is? Alliance Trust is very heavily owned by small investors, many of whom have been invested for years (if not decades), and have an intense long-term interest in the firm's future. So it makes sense that everyone who can vote does vote. The question is how.

If you are a direct shareholder, this is pretty easy. You don't have to go to the meeting (although if I were you, I would it'll be fun and there will be sandwiches), and you should have had a form through by now which will allow you to vote on all the resolutions including the appointment of the new directors (not to go on... but I'd vote for them myself).

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You need to return this to the registrars by 27 April. If you miss that date, you can skip the admin and just turn up with ID to vote on the day. If you don't hold the shares directly, but have them with the trust's subsidiary Alliance Trust Savings (ATS), voting is also pretty easy. Again you will have had a form in the post that allows you to vote on paper or to turn up on the day.

If, on the other hand, you hold the shares with another broker, it gets more complicated. You need to arrange it. That's because while you are the beneficial owner of the shares, your broker is the registered owner on your behalf and therefore holds your vote.

Most Hargreaves Lansdown, for example will now allow you to just call or email in details of how you want your vote cast if you aren't going to the AGM. But if you are going to the AGM (remember the sandwiches), you need to ask them to appoint you as a proxy.

They'll then issue you with a letter that will allow you to use your vote on the day. If you are taking this route, you will need to get on with it most brokers say they need to know by Thursday to get the admin done.

See you in Dundee

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