Lost and found

The JSE’s ShareHub portal is assisting issuers to clean up their share register data and communicate with their shareholders

Lost and found

SA companies have billions of rands in unclaimed dividends. JSE subsidiary JSE Investor Services (JIS) alone has identified R1.5 billion owed to thousands of investors, including a significant portion of BEE shareholders – with some dating back more than 15 years. That figure could be higher if the entire universe of companies, including those not connected to the JSE or administered by JIS, are taken into account. JIS looks after the interests of 2.5 million individual shareholders on behalf of the issuers.

‘There are millions and millions in unclaimed dividends belonging to these shareholders,’ according to Ursula du Plooy, JSE Head of Issuer Services and Key Clients.

Some have suggested transferring that money into government’s central income fund, but Du Plooy says that most companies believe it is part of good corporate governance to reunite shareholders with their unclaimed assets, rather than forfeiting the funds.

However, the issuers don’t know who these funds belong to, as many of the shareholders on their registers are lost. (The retirement industry, with more than R47 billion in unclaimed benefits, struggles with this more than most.) Others can’t track down the beneficiaries, as most of the shareholders don’t know that they have funds owing to them.

Du Plooy says that in terms of the BEE schemes of listed companies administered by JIS, unclaimed dividends total around R167 million. Other listed companies not administered by JIS have about R560 million in unclaimed dividends. ‘Companies are very eager to get the money back to their shareholders but, through the verification process, they’re finding that it’s almost impossible to locate some of them,’ she says. ‘JIS, which maintains the registers of listed and unlisted companies, is putting a huge focus on tracking down those lost shareholders.’

JIS’ web-based ShareHub portal plays a central role in this important exercise. ‘ShareHub is an electronic post box,’ says Du Plooy. ‘It belongs to the shareholder. The shareholder registers with their ID number, which then allows us at JIS to check against our registers to see if the shareholder has any unclaimed dividends. And as we deal with shareholders, it becomes completely painless for the issuers, too.

‘A big advantage for JIS is that we are on the ground, so innovation can happen quickly. We are entirely owned by the JSE, so we’re a South African-owned issuer agent, which means we can be so much more innovative and adaptable.’

About 600 000 shareholders have already signed up for this new centralised communication hub, and more than a million documents have been uploaded to its mailboxes.

‘The JSE’s strategy is to also educate users about how to invest money, and ShareHub is an ideal platform to do this,’ says Du Plooy.

One of the key features of ShareHub is that it enables shareholders to participate in virtual company AGMs and send their proxies via the portal. ‘We rolled out this service during the pandemic, enabling shareholders to attend the AGM, raise their hands, write questions, or ask questions directly to the company chairman, secretary or CEO. We’ve seen a lot more participation as a result,’ says Du Plooy.

ShareHub, she concludes, is not just for JIS clients. ‘These communication boxes are intended for end-shareholders, brokers, asset managers, issuers … the entire market. And, of course, the more boxes we have, the better we can communicate with the end-user – and the easier it is for us to find people who have dividends that are owed to them.’

By Mark van Dijk
Image: Gallo/Getty Images