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The Next Level of Investor Communication

    Client Alerts
  • March 23, 2016

Last year about this time General Electric made a splash with its revamped Form 10-K, which it augmented with a short video introduction from its CEO, Jeff Immelt. (See this Doug’s Note.) This year, GE launched what it calls an Integrated Summary Report, which it describes as “the latest step in contemporizing…investor communications” and is worth checking out.

GE’s initiative…

GE’s ISR combines information from its proxy statement, annual report and sustainability website in a manner intended to better communicate its strategy, performance, board oversight, compensation and sustainability. The ISR, in GE’s words, “boils 350+ pages of reporting down to 68.”

The ISR is rendered in electronic form (as well as a printable version) on GE’s website, complete with charts, colors, photos and another video from Mr. Immelt. Here are my initial impressions after scrolling through the ISR and the Investor section of GE’s website:

  • A single report containing, in reader-friendly form, the most pertinent provisions of a company’s SEC reports is an intriguing concept. The timing of GE’s release dovetails nicely with the SEC’s current initiative to update and improve disclosure in general (see this Doug’s Note), and it would not be surprising to see more of this type thing in the near future from progressive, deep-pocketed companies.
  • While everyone has different tolerance levels, it seems possible to overdo the electronic creativity angle. At some point, optics can obscure the actual substantive information. No doubt as this concept gains traction, the marketplace will determine the appropriate balance. In the meantime, you have to admire GE’s innovative pursuit of better investor outreach and communication.

Regarding Investor webpages generally…

GE’s contemporary website also raises a more macro-consideration: is it time to modernize the Investor section of your website?

Shareholder engagement has, of course, increased dramatically over the past few years. For example, financial and governance roadshows have become mainstream and many companies have overhauled their proxy statements in an effort to better convey their values, philosophies and financial results. In addition, social media communication has become the norm for most companies. As noted above, investor-friendly Form 10-Ks and integrated summary reports may be the next big thing.

Yet, the Investor sections of many websites remain bare-boned, dry and tedious to navigate, even among companies that otherwise proactively strive to enhance shareholder engagement. Now would be a good time to take a spin though your Investorpage to see if it has kept up with management’s vision of the company.

Consider the following:

  • Is an Investor or Investor Relations tab that takes visitors directly to that area prominently featured at the top of the company’s home page? Or do you have to click on another tab (or tabs) like The Company or About Us or Information to get there?
  • Is your Investor section merely a catalogued archive of news releases, SEC filings, truncated management bios, director names, minimum required corporate governance documents and latest stock information?
  • Does the Investor section contain outdated information that adds clutter and suggests obsolescence?
  • Consider adding brief videos from your CEO, Lead Independent Director or other key personnel describing the company’s vision, strategy or important recent developments. The videos need not be elaborate—simple and straightforward will be just as effective.
  • What about sustainability? Do you fully describe all of your efforts and successes in that area? If you have a separate sustainability website, is it prominently mentioned? Is there a clear link to it?
  • Would supplemental information better convey the company’s message to investors? While you may not go so far as a GE-style integrated summary report, think beyond base model disclosures.
  • Many companies have recently spent a lot of time and effort enhancing enterprise risk management. Yet, much of that good work goes un-touted, save for a brief description buried in the proxy statement. This is good place to talk about risk management and provide related links.
  • Re-examine your use of colors, type sizes, graphs, charts and links. Lessons learned from recently modernizing your proxy statement apply equally to your website.

Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your company’s image and strengthen shareholder engagement.