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Pimfa warns investors will be locked out of Unilever vote

Pimfa warns investors will be locked out of Unilever vote

About 36,000 UK citizens who own Unilever shares may be unable to cast one of their votes in the upcoming ballot on whether the company should move its headquarters to the Netherlands and exit the FTSE 100, the adviser trade body has warned.

The Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA) warned private investors who own the shares via a nominee account held by a wealth manager or via a platform such as Hargreaves Lansdown, will not be able to vote as individuals in one part of the vote.

There are two elements to the vote, 75 per cent of shares must vote in favour of the move, and Hargreaves Lansdown has contacted its clients to explain how they can vote on the issue, and to emphasise that they do not need a share certificate to do this, as the vote is online.

But the motion also requires 50 per cent of shareholders to vote for it. In that instance, clients of a platform will not be able to cast an individual vote without obtaining a share certificate and removing the investment from a tax wrapper. 

Liz Field, chief executive of Pimfa, said: "Pimfa have long campaigned for the growth of retail participation in shareholding and building a culture of saving and investment. Our profession is keen to ensure that private investors feel engaged in the companies that they own and are therefore deeply troubled by the potential implications of this issue.

"We are highlighting this matter with various stakeholders such UK Government, FCA & the London Stock Exchange and publicly request that it is urgently reviewed to avoid shareholder disenfranchisement."

At the moment Unilever is listed on both the London Stock Exchange, where it is part of the FTSE 100, and the Euronext Amsterdam, where it is part of the Dutch blue chip index, the AEX.

But it plans to scrap this status and list exclusively in Amsterdam, which would mean funds that invest in UK equities and are in the IA UK All Companies or Equity Income sectors would be forced to sell the shares.

The vote has captured considerable investor interest, with high profile fund managers such as Aviva’s David Cumming and Lindsell Train’s Nick Train, and the managers of the City of London Investment Trust and the Bankers investment trust have vowed to vote against the move as they believe it would force them to sell the shares.

M&G Investments and Legal & General Investment Management are among the other asset managers who have indicated they will vote against the move.

This article has been amended post publication to reflect the two tiers of voting available to investors.

david.thorpe@ft.com