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UPDATE 1-Australia's AMP avoids shareholder revolt "by a whisker"

(Writes through)

SYDNEY, April 30 (Reuters) - Australian wealth manager AMP Ltd narrowly avoided a second straight shareholder vote against executive pay and the prospect of the board being fired on Friday, as it acknowledged wide-ranging concerns at an annual meeting.

Owners of 23.6% of its shares voted against its remuneration report, just short of the 25% required to count as a “no”, a sign of simmering concerns about sinking shares, suspended dividends, a misconduct scandal and a failed divestment.

While embarrassing, the vote spared Australia’s best-known manager of retirement savings a further ballot on removal of its board, which would have been triggered under a “two strikes” rule. The first came in 2020, when two-thirds voted against the pay report, and another was in 2018.

“We are committed to working very hard to address your frustrations regarding culture and performance,” Chair Debra Hazelton said after the vote which followed three hours of mostly negative questions at the virtual meeting.

“We will continue to work to deliver our transformation program and we will continue to rebuild your trust and confidence to return AMP to sustainable returns.”

Hazelton has been in the role since August, after her predecessor left over complaints about his handling of a misconduct complaint. This month, the company’s chief executive said he was leaving after less than three years.

The 162-year-old company was one of the worst affected by a 2018 royal commission inquiry into the financial sector that drew attention to fees charged by wealth managers, often without providing a service, to set off an industry restructure.

Claims that AMP’s board doctored a supposedly independent report to a regulator about fee-charging triggered a wave of executive departures and fund outflows that hit its profits and shares, which were down 3% on Friday, near record lows.

Departing Chief Executive Francesco de Ferrari, who was hired after the inquiry, embarked on an overhaul that included the sale of non-core assets but this month the company said talks to sell its asset management arm had ended without a deal.

“They survived by a whisker,” said John Cowling, chief executive of the Australian Shareholders’ Association, which says it represents the owners of more than 3 million AMP shares.

“But although we are unhappy, we don’t really want there to be a spill, because that would be even more disruptive. There’s enough disruption in the place without the whole board getting kicked out.” (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Clarence Fernandez)

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