Today I attended the second day of our annual reporting conference in London.
It was one of the best yet, and we’ve been holding them for five years or more.
I’m trying to consider the really important bits that I remember, and make sense of them.
1) Investors such as Aviva (£300 billion under management) are not that interested in what level of GRI you have. Although using it is a useful indicator for them.
2) The push by Bloomberg to put ESG-related information on their terminals will be very significant over time, although it doesn’t work so well right now.
3) The UK election may be quite significant, given the more hands-off approach the Conservatives may seek to take to business generally. But their Responsibility Deals mechanism may play an important role (I should note here that I was partly responsible for the creation of these, although not responsible for how they are being used right now).
4) GRI still has little traction in the US. But the SEC is planning some moves to encourage better reporting. Watch this space, slowly, is the messsage I heard.
5) Reports are only really useful as a management tool. As a communications device they don’t work. But CR teams lack the budget and wherewithal to take them to the next level of segmented communication.
6) The traditional formats for consumer communication make it very hard to do this for that particular audience, i.e. customers. But focused communications utilising new communications methods present an excellent low cost way to engage some groups.
7) Reporting to ‘opinion formers’ is best done in the form of issue briefs, with credible stakeholder comments on specific issues. But hardly anyone does it consistently, or at all. Working with the comms department is seen as very tough.
8) The GRI needs to reform, and help make reports shorter, and more readable. But their long term future is by no means assured, given potential integration of some information into annual reports and other, segmented communication formats.
9) The role of assurance is constantly up for debate. Companies are unhappy with what assurance achieves for them, and the costs of it, but are not sure what else to do. Stakeholder panels are seen as one solution. Both may be required in future. But for many companies resources for both are just not available.
10) Companies are becoming more comfortable with giving critics a voice in their reporting, but given no-one reads reports, are confused about the value of this, and have to fight internal battles as a result.
Overall, I’d say despite the challenges above, I’ve seen reporting improve drastically in the last few years. It’s what you do AFTER you publish your report that will soon count for a lot more than the fact you produced a report itself.
That’s the real challenge, and opportunity, for business to win trust from stakeholders.