Privately held companies can call their own shots and only have to share their financials with the tax man. Once you go public, the game changes. Suddenly, the rules and regulations kick in to overdrive. You are now responsible to your myriad and ever-changing group of investors. In 2002, when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted in the United States (which served as a template for changes in Canada as well), publicly traded companies were handed a whole new rulebook that they had to play by or face some time in the penalty box (fines and/or jail time).
One of the key components of investor relations is a company’s annual report. Once a large expense and a drain on natural resources, they have now begun to enter the digital era. By sharing an online version of the annual report, businesses can save the cost of printing and delivering the reports which also saves on paper and pollution. The other online advantage is the incorporation of video and the ability to be more interactive. It is also easier for potential investors or employees to look back over the company’s performance and get an idea of how they have (hopefully) grown and progressed.
While the primary function of the annual report is to reveal the financial performance over the year, it can also be a useful vehicle to reinforce their brand, expand on their vision and to give a glimpse into their future. The biggest challenge with an annual report is making it in depth and sophisticated enough for a savvy investor, yet engaging and clear enough for other audiences.
The online annual reports are still based on the concept and style of the published reports. Once more companies can get away from the restrictions of a paper world, we will see the growth of interactive and dynamic websites that can offer each viewer an engaging experience that gives them a simple video overview or access to all the numbers their hearts’ desire. Stripping away the bonds of a static report and opening ourselves to the possibilities of the digital world will take investor relations to the next level.