I binned my Eircom paperwork: how can I find out how many shares I owned?
Q&A: Dominic Coyle answers your personal finance questions
A reader wants to know where he can check what Eircom shares he had. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
I had shares in Eircom/Vodafone/Verizon and, as we all know, we lost out. What I want to know is, as they were public shares, can I claim against loss? I dumped all paperwork and have no record of same. Where can I check what shares I had and lost out on?
Mr CL, email
Regular readers of this column will probably be slightly relieved that we’re not about to head into another crunching of the numbers on how to figure out how much the chastening investment in Telecom Éireann/Eircom back in 1999 has cost someone.
Because of the various mergers and demergers, it is a somewhat complex area and one we have braved on a few occasions in the past. It also serves mostly to remind people how the heady rush into Ireland’s great experiment in shareholder democracy proved an expensive lesson for all but a very few.
But not for this reader. Twenty years to the month since the then State telecoms monopoly floated, you are now looking to figure out how to go about working out yourself what it had cost you.
The first thing to confirm is that, yes, assuming you have now sold or otherwise disposed of these shares, you are entitled to set any loss against other capital gains arising this year or going forward. Of course, that involves working out the loss – for instance, on your Verizon shareholding, you are likely to have made a profit. But before you crunch any numbers, the first thing you need to do is sort out how many shares you owned in the various entities.
I’m assuming from what you say that you actually held the Eircom shares and then the Vodafone shares long enough to have an interest in all three companies.
To recap, without getting into the nitty gritty, Telecom Éireann/Eircom floated in July 1999. Less than two years later, it agreed to sell its mobile phone business, Eircell, to Vodafone. Irish investors got 0.9478 of one Vodafone share for every two shares held.
Later that year, the rest of the business was taken private by a consortium led by Sir Anthony O’Reilly in a bruising battle with another group led by Denis O’Brien that has had repercussions through the intervening years. But not for you. As far as you are concerned, even though Eircom floated on the stock market again in 2004, the original Telecom Éireann/Eircom shares were cancelled with the 2001 move to take it private for which you received a cash payment.
Assuming you were still invested, you would have shares only in Vodafone at that point.
Roll on then to 2014. That was the year in which Vodafone decided to sell out of its US joint venture with Verizon. From your question, I assume you were one of the 383,000 former Eircom shareholders who still held Vodafone shares at that point.
Shareholders got one Verizon share for every 39 Vodafone shares they held at that time. They also got a cash payment, but that is irrelevant for the purposes of this piece.
But to work it all out, you’ll need to go back to basics – how many shares did you originally have in Telecom Éireann/Eircom.
In the absence of any paperwork – a point I will return to later – you will need to check with the share registrars, the company that manages the list of shareholders and details of their holdings in a given company.
In your case, the good news is that the same company – Computershare – appears to be registrar for each of the three businesses in which you would have held shares through this saga.
The less cheerful news is that each of the companies is managed by Computershare in a different country, and you are likely to have to deal with each of them individually to sort out your holdings unless you want to do the maths yourself.
And it is not a simple process. Share registrars just don’t hand over personal details of shareholdings to anyone who rings up claiming to be Joe Bloggs of such and such an address, even if it matches an entry in their files. Even before GDPR, this was a no-no.
So where do you contact them?
For details of the original Telecom Éireann/Eircom shareholdings, you need to write to: The Registrar, Computershare Investor Services (Ireland) Limited, 3100 Lake Drive, Citywest Business Campus, Dublin 24.
For details of your Vodafone holdings, the address is: Computershare Investor Services, The Pavilions, Bridgwater Road, Bristol BS99 6ZZ, England.
And for Verizon, you will need to get in touch with the company at: Verizon Shareowner Services, c/o Computershare, PO Box 505000, Louisville, KY 40233-5000, US.
I’ve not given phone numbers because no one is going to disclose these details over the phone, but you should include a number and email address in any correspondence.
I spoke to Computershare on this last year and they said that any letter will need to confirm who you are, but, critically, you will need to have this confirmation signed by an independent witness of standing – a lawyer or a garda.
You will also need to include two copies of proof of address – a driving licence and/or utility bill will do. And if your address has changed since you bought the shares back in 1999, proof of that initial address would also be useful.
For most people, that could be letters posted to you about shareholder matters or any other documentation with an old address that you might keep following a move of house.
The other thing that would help, Computershare says, is any communications from Computershare relating to the Eircom shareholding – notification of AGMs etc – or your account number – the shareholder reference number (SRN) – if you ever made a record of it.
As you can see, holding on to some essential paperwork would have been a good idea. I can’t stress enough the importance of filing away paperwork on investments of any sort. These are financial documents and they – or the investments to which they relate – are worth money, even if it is only an offset against other profits to reduce a tax liability.
It is grossly irresponsible to simply bin everything until you are certain there is no future value in or need for them. You wouldn’t casually discard the title deeds to your home, a receipt for a workplace expense that could be claimed back from your employer or against tax, or even documents that show you might be entitled to a refund of income tax for health purposes. Actually, come to think of it, that last one might not be the best example, as Revenue says annually that the single biggest relief that taxpayers fail to avail of is the health expenses relief. Still, the point is valid.
And, as we are talking about files dating back 20 years, this is not something that is likely to be at Computershare’s fingertips anyway. So it will take time. Be patient. It’s not their fault you threw away all the documentation that you should have kept.
Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email email@example.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.