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Over the majority of April and the beginning of May I have been trying to make myself useful by going to as many industry events as possible. I have attended events on ESG, investor relations, macroeconomics, accounting policies, corporate websites, governance issues, you name it. All of these events have confirmed one thing for me. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but:
Communication is key!
At all of these events I have found myself interrupting investors at the buffet stand and badgering them over coffee to ask them what they really want from companies, and every time I get the same answer: honest communication.
But, I hear you ask, what should I be communicating? Well, this is where I can share my learnings and provide you with practical advice.
The UK Corporate Governance Code will take full impact next year and the changes to Section 172 are a welcome one in my eyes. For the clients I work with, the updated provision has no impact on their approach to engagement with stakeholders as this is already happening and has been for many years. The real challenge is how you actually communicate it. Will Pomroy, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management, echoed this sentiment by saying: “A lot of stakeholder engagement is going on, but it’s not being reported on. Companies need to get better at reporting that!”
The approach to stakeholder engagement is easy to report on, but investors need to know the outcomes. What actually happened? How did the board respond? What changes were made? NN Group (page 61) is an example of a company that does this well by including an outcome column in its stakeholder engagement table.
KPIs are critical for investors to understand what measurements are used to track strategic progress but communicating progress and providing context are just as important. What’s more, targets can be an even more effective tool to give an investor an understanding of performance. Communicating an absolute number or goal is a big step in accountability, but it also helps to attract long-term investors who can see the wider value that the company is on a journey to deliver.
This year, the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance charted a 34% increase, to more than $30 trillion in sustainably managed assets under management, since its last tally in 2016. With a goliath increase like that, it’s clear how important it is for companies to effectively communicate ESG performance. Investors recognise that companies which manage non-financial issues will be better off in the long term and will realise growth benefits.
When it comes to ESG information, investors want to see numbers. However, it’s not just a case of throwing as much data on a page as possible, it must be material and strategic and, in some cases, less is more. Try these simple steps to get your data communication right and build trust:
Look at availability
What’s out there, what can you measure and what is it not yet possible to measure? Explain this to your investors to be transparent and to build trust.
Is the data relevant?
Ensure that a sufficient materiality process has been conducted and explain this process clearly.
Is the data true?
Have your data verified and explain the verification process.
Write the narrative
The narrative must be authentic and not seem like some sort of strapline. Build ESG into all of your communications with investors, not just the annual report. Demonstrate how you live and breathe your culture and purpose.
Diversity is no longer a nice to have. It is now a genuine hard and fast issue that can impact investor decisions. Companies must ensure they are tackling diversity head on, particularly at board level. You should clearly explain your composition. If you have a board of ten white males over the age of 50, explain why this is seen as the most effective board for your company and try not to shy away from the issue with boilerplate detail on diversity in the appointment process; simply communicate why the composition is beneficial.
The same can be said for skills on the board. Companies need to be clearer on how the board composition is best placed to mitigate risks. Further information on how this can be done effectively can be found in our previous blog: Risk reporting and board skills, are you connecting the dots?
“Communication is everyone's panacea for everything”
American writer Tom Peters said the above and I certainly think it rings true for investor relations. At the end of every session at the IR Masterclass held by RD:IR and the Investor Relations Society, investors were asked what tips they could give companies to attract more investors and the answer was the same every single time: better communication and be more transparent on why the board has done something. If you take anything away from this blog, I hope it is this: invest in your communications to get asset managers to invest in you.
If you would like more specific help with how to improve your corporate communications, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.