An interview with Dianne Szigety, President, PubliCo Services
Based in Vancouver, PubliCo Services has provided corporate securities regulatory and corporate secretary services to help businesses with regulatory and non-compliance issues since 1994.
"PubliCo’s services are designed with small companies in mind and geared toward co-ordinating effective compliance solutions with corporate administration so that the applicable rules and regulations pertaining to public companies are complied with," says Szigety.
Some of PubliCo's work involves the preparation and coordination of annual general meetings. Reporting companies use a transfer agent to provide an online voting platform to counts vote of shareholders and there are online meeting and voting platforms used by the industry, but the costs are prohibitive for small privately-held companies or associations.
As Szigety discovered, the lack of an online voting solution made it more difficult for one group of Canadian investors to maintain control of their investments, which, in some cases , amounted to their entire life savings.
Real Estate Developer Keeps Investors in the Dark
"PubliCo conducted annual general meetings for two Canadian not-for-profit corporations that administer homeowner associations (HOAs) in Honduras," said Szigety. "The members of the HOAs had invested in recreational lots in a real estate development project in Honduras."
However, instead of the project moving forward, on plan, the developer, essentially stopped improving the properties, she said.
"The real estate developer, who had our money, had stopped communicating," says Szigety. To make matters worse, the developer actively worked to prevent the investors from communicating with each other. “We didn’t know how many investors there were, or who they were, and this made it difficult for us to band together to take control of our investments."
"The developer collected a lot of money from the investors and didn’t spend the money on infrastructure as promised," she said. "We had to form legal corporate entities in Canada in order to be recognized by the courts in Honduras. Canadian entities incorporated under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act are required to hold an annual general meeting, to elect directors, appoint an accountant, approve bylaws, as well as any other business to be dealt with.
The annual general meetings that we used the SmartBallot platform for were the first annual meetings of the two HOAs in 11 years.
No Easy, Confidential Way to Conduct Votes
Thanks to some determined detective work, several investors were able to track down and make contact with other members of the HOA. The plan was to band together and take back control of their investment.
"The thing was, once they all got in contact, they discovered there was no easy, confidential way to conduct online votes," says Szigety. "They were using Google's free survey tool, which has a lot of limitations."
For one thing, all of the personal information, including names, email addresses, and location is all collected by Google. Free online survey tools also make it extremely easy for administrators to see individual votes -- another privacy concern.
"The biggest problem was that the voting results from free online survey tools would not stand up under Canadian corporate law," says Szigety. "We were looking for a simple and easy voting platform and SmartBallot’s price and offering was very reasonable."
The members of the HOA found SmartBallot easy to use.
SmartBallot: Secure and Easy to Use Online Voting Platform
"Not everyone is computer-savvy and knows where to click," says Szigety. “We have a number of seniors in the group and they are not as instinctively adventurous on the internet as their younger counterparts. The entire SmartBallot process was smooth and efficient. Members received a link for registration purposes and when voting began they received a username and PIN to log into the voting platform. We received many positive comments from the members that it was a very easy process.”
SmartBallot provides ongoing reports during the voting process so it is easy to see which email notifications are getting delivered, open and voted and which ones were not.
“SmartBallot’s reports helped increase engagement to ensure meaningful numbers of people were voting”, said Szigety.
Most of all, Szigety says, SmartBallot empowered the HOA members to hold their first annual general meetings to collaborate, communicate and structure a plan of action for 2020.