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Shareholders were rewarded with fascinating insights at Finsbury Growth & Income’s annual meeting
Thursday 17 Feb 2022 Author: Daniel Coatsworth

For most companies on the UK stock market, annual shareholder meetings are not the big glamourous affairs one might assume them to be. Over the years, giants like BP (BP.) might have packed out a conference centre, but for most companies these AGM events are sparsely attended.

Shares has heard stories such as a certain listed fast-food company who had laid out more pizzas for people to eat than there were shareholders who turned up for its AGM. And then there are tales of shareholders dumping stock in companies which no longer provide a hot meal at their annual meetings. A decent bit of grub has long been an incentive to get people to attend.

Covid came along and forced AGMs to be held behind closed doors, with some companies deciding to broadcast them online instead. Even though that was convenient for many investors, it’s not a perfect situation.

The best thing about in-person AGMs is the ability to put directors on the spot and ask questions. Doing so behind a computer screen runs the risk of these directors being selective with the questions they answer.



Your chance to ask questions to company directors or fund managers
Meet fellow investors and exchange ideas


Location or time isn’t always convenient
Some meetings are tedious with people just reading out the already-published reports

It was therefore refreshing to see approximately 75 people turn up for Finsbury Growth & Income’s (FGT) AGM on 9 February. We’re told that number is significantly down on previous years, but a good turnout under the circumstances, with shareholders ranging from their late 20s to 80 years old attending the meeting.

The key draw was the chance to hear from, and then grill, Finsbury Growth & Income’s fund manager Nick Train and deputy portfolio manager Madeline Wright.

While a pre-recorded version of the presentation is now available online for those who couldn’t attend the event, those in the room certainly had the advantage. Train held a lengthy question and answer session (which isn’t available to watch online) and Wright and he stuck around afterwards to mingle with investors and chat about all things markets and beyond.

To his credit, Train took time to think about each question from shareholders and, in most cases, give a lengthy answer. ‘Candour’ was the word of the day, with Train happy to discuss disappointments as well as successes.

Considering that Finsbury Growth & Income lagged the UK market last year (2021 total return of 13% versus 18.3% from the FTSE All-Share), one might have expected a room of angry shareholders demanding answers as to why they paid for active management and the manager didn’t outperform.

However, the first question from an investor began: ‘I’m not too worried about the performance of the trust, I’m a happy holder.’


Train might have been given some grace because of the trust’s long-term track record. Over the past 20 years it has achieved an annualised return of 10%, nearly double the 5.2% from the FTSE All-Share.

Nonetheless, the fund manager didn’t try and brush off last year’s outcome, even though the double-digit return was the trust’s third best year on an absolute basis since 2013. He was upfront and said: ‘Underperforming the benchmark is a disappointment.’

The reasons why it happened were clear. Finsbury Growth & Income has a concentrated portfolio of 20-odd stocks so any laggards can act as a drag on the overall performance.

The three biggest detractors to the trust’s performance were London Stock Exchange (LSE) with a -23% total return in 2021 as investors thought it might have overpaid for data provider Refinitiv. Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) returned -8% as profits failed to match the previous year’s bumper performance, and Unilever (ULVR) returned -6.8% amid concerns about sales growth rates and margins.


Train is a highly experienced and clever investor, and there were also some very smart shareholders in the room judging by the quality of their questions.

Two new bits of information were garnered thanks to the inquisitive nature of the attendees of the AGM. First, Train seemed to support Unilever’s bold move to look at GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) consumer healthcare arm.

He said: ‘We would have been a lot more disappointed with the company if they had not contemplated making that acquisition. That is a rational asset for Unilever to aspire to own. Whether it was practical at this juncture is another matter.’

Train also revealed that Finsbury Growth & Income no longer held a stake in Pearson (PSON), concluding a long period of having to justify why he held on to an underperforming stock. The manager also explained that he decided to sell down a stake in Pearson held in another one of his funds to meet redemptions from investors seeking to withdraw their money.


Shareholders managed to get Train to give honest answers on some of his other holdings. On Finsbury Growth & Income’s stake in Manchester United football club – whose shares are down 13% over the past 12 months – he said: ‘In the spirit of candour, I’m disappointed by the return on the investment’.

He added: ‘But the incredible value of sport rights remains strong and growing, and you’ve seen a flurry of change in ownership among top teams. There is an appetite to own these trophy assets and Manchester United is one of the world’s most pre-eminent trophy assets.’

Train could have stuck to the script at the AGM and refused to answer stock-specific questions, which is often the case with fund managers. But he was happy to talk about anything, and what’s interesting was his ongoing reference to the investment trust being ‘your company’ when addressing the shareholders in the room.

Some might call him a star manager, but Train knows his place – he is working for the shareholders, and notably during the event he thanked the board of directors for providing support and council over a ‘tricky’ few years.

‘There were a few times we needed the board’s wisdom,’ he added. This might surprise some investors who think a fund manager is the only one running the show, and that the board is simply there as a formality.


In-person AGMs can be very important ways to find out about your investments. With actively managed funds, you’re paying for an individual or team to beat the market, and it’s only right that you’re granted an audience with them to ask how it’s going, so make the most of it and attend if possible.

Such interaction is also beneficial for those owning individual company shares. After all, as a shareholder you are effectively part owner of the business.

The bonus of attending AGMs is that you’ll be in a room with like-minded individuals and sharing thoughts and ideas can be very satisfying and hopefully rewarding.


If you’re a shareholder in a stock, investment trust or fund, you have the right to attend the AGM.

When you invest via an investment platform your shares or fund units are held in a nominee account, which means you’re not classed as the legal owner. The platform is the legal owner, and you are the beneficiary. This means your name and contact details aren’t visible to the investee company. To attend an AGM, you need to find out the date of the event yourself and ask your investment platform for a letter to prove you are an investor.

For example, with AJ Bell Youinvest, customers need to send a secure message to confirm they want to attend a specific AGM, and in return they will be sent a letter of representation.

DISCLAIMER: AJ Bell is the owner of Shares magazine. The author owns shares in AJ Bell

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