Every year without fail companies must submit their annual reports. These documents ideally help explain the company’s goals, its strategies, and its progress toward fulfilling those goals, not only to government regulators but to shareholders, investors, and the public. Before 2010, annual reports were notoriously opaque, aimed primarily at business-savvy investors and stockholders. At the turn of the decade, online annual reports and proxies became available, being more layman-friendly and accessible. But while European companies have embraced interactive reports, American firms are slower to adapt.
Why go Online?
Online reports offer a number of advantages over their printed counterparts. For one thing, online annual reports and proxies are interactive, allowing readers to browse dynamically through their context and use interactive features to more closely explore the elements and ideas within. Seeing the potential of these reports, web designers and SEC filing experts at financial printing firms are making daily advances in engaging ways to present financial data, such as with graphs, navigation indexes, and videos. While experts still recommend publishing annual reports in printed and PDF form, an interactive online form is a great way to really get the word out.
The American Deficit
In 2015, the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) found that 67% of American companies produced both printed and online annual reports, and 5% on top of that published exclusively online. But that 67% is misleading, as the NIRI also included PDF “flipbooks,” which are non-interactive and thus not true online reports. Surprisingly the United States, the birthplace of investor relations and many of its tried-and-true best practices, is not taking its own advice, missing out on the chance to reach out much wider with their reports and impress both Wall Street finance wizards and Joe Investor on Main Street, USA.
This deficit may stem from a perfect storm of shrinking budgets and misconceptions about the cost of online reports. Investor relations budgets are dropping in the United States, while commonly held wisdom holds that digital annual reports are pricey. Also, the SEC already requires companies to submit Form 10-K, a dense document whose structure does not suit an online report, leading executives to believe that an online report would be an entirely different publication. Not shackled to the 10-K structure, companies in countries like Canada, Australia, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates are all reaping the benefits of attractive, engaging online reports.
Interactive reports and proxies can do so much that it’s a shame more American companies aren’t seizing the chance. Here are just a few examples of firms that capitalized on this popular new idea:
- Kickstarter: An interactive slideshow with videos, crowdfunding success sotries, and five pages of data.
- UStream: Parallex scrolling powered by HTML5 creates a beautiful and entertaining report, with every graphic and image animated.
- MailChimp: Users can scroll through a recap of the company’s milestones, from total emails sent using its service to the company’s softball team’s record, with links to content, blogs, and even related entertainment.
Financial printing firms employ experts who know how to get the most out of these flexible new options, creating pages that look as good on a mobile device as a desktop, interactive charts and graphs, custom Excel and PDF downloads, videos, navigation tools, and more. Reports produced this way can map to SEC and XBRL requirements, and are often more affordable than they might first appear. What companies spend on a gorgeous interactive report they will easily recoup in public engagement.
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