Commentators and legislators have voiced fears, in the wake of chairman Richard Li Tzai-kai's controversial bid to privatise PCCW, that small investors may not get a chance to exercise their voting rights under Hong Kong's electronic clearing system. Their concerns echoed those of market commentator Albert Cheng King-hon, who wrote in an article published in the South China Morning Post earlier last month that the PCCW privatisation saga was a good example of how market and technological changes had created problems for investors. Mr Cheng said before the introduction of an electronic clearing system, shareholding records were kept in a central register that ensured every shareholder got a notification to cast a vote. But since the clearing system went electronic, more than 90 per cent of shares were registered in the names of nominees. While the banking or broking nominees were supposed to vote on behalf of the investors and according to their wishes, not all of these intermediaries routinely informed investors about the voting decisions. As a result, some retail investors were not able to exercise their voting rights, Mr Cheng said. In the case of PCCW's privatisation vote on February 4, Mr Cheng said 3.47 billion shares had voting rights, of which 3.3 billion were held by nominees at the central register. But only 2,257 voting forms representing about 1.58 billion votes were exercised, which meant more than half of the shareholders did not vote. Legislator Starry Lee Wai-king said she had received complaints from retail investors who said their banks or brokers did not inform them about the voting procedures. 'It appears that some investors wanted to ask their bankers to vote on the privatisation deal but the banks' staff did not know what the procedures were,' she said. A retail investor who only wanted to be named as Charis said she used Hang Seng Bank's online trading services and had never received any notification to exercise her voting rights. She is not a shareholder of PCCW. A spokesman said Hang Seng mailed notifications to customers who held PCCW's stock. Another small investor said she would generally not attend annual general meetings of companies in which she held shares. 'But I would like to know about them because I might like to attend occasionally,' she added. 'I suppose it might be a matter of online brokers keeping their administrative fees down and if they had to alert all shareholders of all the respective companies' votes and meetings, it might add to their costs.' Securities and Futures Commission chief executive Martin Wheatley said the commission allowed brokers to make arrangements with clients on how to exercise their voting rights. If the brokers failed to follow their investors' instructions, the SFC would take action. Legislator Ms Lee said banks should seek ways to help inform their clients and make it easier for them to exercise their voting rights. Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, the chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association, said local stockbrokers tended to enjoy close relationships with clients. 'This makes it easier for brokerage firms to inform investors about voting issues,' he said. 'But in my experience, very few investors would ask for voting forms. They are more interested in making money from their stock trading.'