THE responsibilities of listed companies to their shareholders has always been a crucial concern of the stock exchange. The strengthening of these responsibilities has provided the exchange with some of its most important - and controversial - activities. The exchange and the Securities and Futures Commission, the territory's chief financial watchdog, will hold the first of a series of conferences to reinforce these responsibilities next month. The conference will also aim to boost the links and communication channels between the regulators and their subjects. Hong Kong, as a major financial and commercial centre, has played a leading role in shaping and restructuring the framework. Unfortunately, the dominance of family businesses in the territory can cause problems in protecting the interests of minority shareholders. Herbert Hui Ho-ming, head of the listing division, said the exchange recently introduced a range of new rules to ensure local requirements keep pace with international standards. But Mr Hui said the market needed time to digest the changes and integrate the reforms into its practices. The conferences, which could be repeated every three months, would enable directors to establish better communication with their shareholders. Several surveys have shown that many shareholders are not aware of their rights. To rectify the situation, the exchange now requires all listed companies to have two independent non-executive directors on their boards. The exchange is also encouraging companies to keep shareholders informed of the company's practices and intentions by, for example, distributing minutes and recommending that independent non-executive directors attend at least two meetings a year. A recent example of the exchange pushing for greater transparency concerned Yiu Wing International Holdings, an investment company with exposure to entertainment and energy operations. The move followed the company's auditors noting qualifications over loans extended by the company. The exchange has also taken steps towards setting up a remuneration committee. Auditors are also keen to boost standards of corporate governance for shareholders. Earlier this year, they suggested that the exchange make it a requirement for companies' interim results to be vetted by independent accountants. At present, there is only a requirement for annual accounts to be fully audited. The Hong Kong Society of Accountants has stressed the importance of companies giving the same information to all shareholders. But it has recommended that the requirements for any additional auditing should be less onerous to avoid excessive cost. The society said auditors would look at loans and significant assets to see whether they were fully stated and to indicate if other provisions were necessary.