Are investors ready for a Digital Reporting Future?

This is a guest blog post Thomas Toomse-Smith from the Financial Reporting Council. The Financial Reporting Council is the UK’s independent regulator responsible for promoting high quality corporate governance and reporting to foster investment.

The internet and technology has revolutionised many aspects of communications; however, communications between companies and investors does not appear to have taken full advantage of this revolution.

In order to understand why this might be, and how reporting might evolve in the future the UK Financial Reporting Council’s Financial Reporting Lab (Lab) launched a project to look at digital reporting by companies. The Lab has issued its first report from this project. The report called Digital Present is based on analysis conducted by the Lab from in depth interviews with companies and investors. The interviews were supplemented with the results of an online survey of retail investors.

The report provides practical guidance to companies and highlights some areas where improvements could be made to what currently exists.

The importance of annual accounts

Annual reports remain of paramount importance to investors. However, investors prefer PDF for digital annual reports. They consider PDF not as a substitute for a hard copy, but as a progression from it. PDF provides the best mix of attributes of paper and digital annual report, but companies still could improve the PDF by thinking more about how to deliver the best experience with it on-screen.

Making sense of multi-channel

Alongside the annual report, companies use a range of other channels to communicate information Investors need to consume information on multiple companies in an efficient manner. However, company-produced tools, by their very nature, focus only on the individual company, and the multitude of channels leads to a significant proportion of them too failing to gain traction with investors.

Investors have specific feedback for companies on the most significant channels and tools:

  • Delivery of annual results presentations — Investors want multiple channels to be available (e.g. phone and webcast) preferably with supporting slides. Transcripts of the entire event, including all Q&As, is also deemed important.

  • Social media — Investors do not currently view social media as a useful channel for company produced, investor-focused information. It is seen as repetitive of other channels.

  • Investor relations videos — Many Investors are cynical about the use of video by companies. They consider them to be promotional in nature, and unfocused in aiming at many audiences. Those Investors that value them concentrate on nonverbal information such as body language.

  • Investor relations apps — Apps are not popular with investors. Many Investors find the need to have an IR app for each company prohibitive; they are concerned that this uses up space and adds clutter to their devices, especially when following multiple companies.

Investors who participated in this project suggest that companies:

  • Reduce duplication and focus development towards tools and channels which provide new or additional information.

  • Acknowledge that investors follow more than one company by making tools and channels more consistent in scope and operation with other companies, making them easy to access and locate.

  • Make the purpose of each channel or tool clear to investors, and clarify its contents.

Investors have shown they are open to innovation when it meets their needs to access information relevant to their analysis, across companies and time. To enhance current digital reporting methods and innovate further, it will be important for companies to build on the attributes of current reporting that investors identify as being most helpful.

The Lab will build on the findings from this stage of the project to inform remaining phases. In the second phase, ‘Digital Future’ the Lab will work with companies and investors to develop ideas of how companies could use digital reporting in future to improve their communication with the capital markets. Do you have views on this area? The Lab would be interested in hearing from ClosIR users. The Lab has released a survey alongside the Digital Present report seeking views from those involved in the production and use of corporate reporting. The survey will be open until the end of June and can be accessed here.

You can read the full Lab report here.