AMERCO (NASDAQ:UHAL), better known as the company that owns the orange U-Haul truck rental business, yesterday became the first company to simultaneously launch a stockholder forum and take advantage of the new e-proxy process.
The company’s shareholders will be receiving a notice in the mail telling them they can access their proxy materials online at http://www.mobular.net/Mellon/uhal. They can also call or email to request the materials to be delivered to them on paper.
As part of its annual meeting, AMERCO has set up a stockholder forum for shareholders to “post and exchange ideas and views about the proxy materials for the 2007 Annual Meeting and Webcast of Shareholders and to share information in a productive and civilized way.”
At the time of writing this, there were no messages posted to the forum. Shareholders have to register to post messages. They must provide information such as their names and the number of shares they own.
No HTML option, Edgar filings would be better
Unfortunately, AMERCO’s annual report and proxy statement are in PDF and image-based documents that make reading and navigating exceptionally difficult. There are no HTML reports as the SEC said it wanted to see companies provide.
Image-based documents, which essentially are photographs of an annual report or proxy statement’s pages strung together with a rudimentary navigation scheme, are completely inaccessible to blind users and people with other disabilities. They also will not validate to W3C HTML standards.
Even for people like me who have little difficulty using the Web with a year-old computer and a high-definition monitor, the default page size results in text so small and grainy it’s impossible to read. The user interface does not make clear how you can increase the page size.
And that’s just one of the many, many problems that make these documents less usable even than company filings on Edgar. Ironically, the SEC’s voluntary e-proxy rule prevents companies from linking to their more usable filings on Edgar.
|The image-based documents are hard to read and use. They also are not valid HTML.|
Teething problems, shareholders getting a raw deal
There do seem to be some teething problems with the first companies using the e-proxy process. For example, the link AMERCO provided to the online proxy voting interface was broken when I first tried it. However, about two hours later it was working.
Companies taking advantage of the e-proxy process will reap huge cost savings from printing and mailing fewer reports. However, so far, they’re not reinvesting any of those savings to provide usable online reports.
In that sense, investors are getting a raw deal.
Related items on this topic:
Is Shareholder.com client breaching SEC privacy rules? (July 10, 2007)
Shareholder forums vs. Board blogs ( July 06, 2007)
The emerging engagement expectation (July 06, 2007)
My bad experience with first e-proxy notice (July 04, 2007)
Pfizer starts summits with (some) shareholders (June 29, 2007)
SEC to go back on e-proxy usability? (June 15, 2007)
E-proxy: do it for love, not money (June 14, 2007)