The benefits of transmitting corporate disclosure documents via eDelivery are patently obvious. Digital documentation is eco-friendly and convenient, and as the world becomes increasingly digitized, the shift to eDelivery bears a certain flavour of inevitability as well.
Investors increasingly recognize the value of convenient and timely online access to financial information to make investment decisions. Regulators and firms, as well as technology providers, have responded positively and quickly, enabling conversion to eDelivery at a tremendous rate. Consent – a key component in recent technology legislation such as CASL and the new digital charter – is the real issue. The complicated process of obtaining consent to onboard clients to eDelivery options can be an onerous task.
Under current regulations, clients must be notified by firms of the eDelivery option, along with any other delivery options. Then there must be proof of their indicated preference for eDelivery, usually by a response via an account portal or platform login. It’s simple in theory, but waiting on each respondent of a potentially large-scale client base to log in and respond to a multi-option query — especially for accounts that are not actively tended to or checked on — paints it in a different light.
Many highly educated, tech-savvy folk can’t be bothered to remember their Netflix password or flip through their many viewing options on a Friday night. Regulators need to consider amendments to existing regulations that would enable easier, more user-friendly client consent for eDelivery of disclosure documents.
For instance, the “notice and access” mechanism for electronic proxy voting could be extended to prospectus and offering memorandum documents. Under this approach, the client would be notified of prospectus delivery through an email, with an attached hyperlink to the prospectus document in SEDAR – a clear and timely notification in their inbox, with an easy path to the relevant information. No more searching for passwords or scrolling through options to find what they’re looking for.
This notice-and-access version of eDelivery is clean and simple, and would result in more active investors. Not only does having the information pushed to investors make it easier to access, which naturally leads to an increased frequency of access, but it generates a sense of “real time” market information. This creates a more open communication flow between investors and the issuer, rather than exchanging clicks through an interface with a convoluted taxonomy of options, like a game of broken telephone.
Being more engaged and informed gives investors greater confidence, and a confident investor is more likely to purchase new offerings, as well as participate more frequently in secondary markets. Issuers would also benefit from the proposed system by enabling notice-and-access eDelivery for prospectuses. The cost burden for corporate issuers would be substantially reduced from the paper-reliant system.
The notice-and-access model has been successful in proxy voting. In proxy-related materials the issuer is responsible for informing beneficial shareholders of any upcoming shareholder’s meeting, as well as the electronic location of any relevant materials and information. This simple change in process – pushing information out to investors, rather than asking them to take detailed steps to obtain it via eDelivery – has made a world of difference. Individual shareholder participation in proxy voting has suddenly leapt forward, especially relative to the U.S., where an investor must take that extra step to retrieve the voting instruction form.
We need to expand eDelivery options more aggressively. The evidence indicates that a robust application of electronic delivery creates more engaged investors, reduced costs for issuers and more vibrant capital markets, all contributing to stepped up capital formation and economic growth.