Origin of the specifics: the evolution of the annual report

Design, Digital, Annual Report

Purple 9 Sep 2016
3 mins

Annual reports are no longer the same beasts they were 10 years ago – Cameron Jones explores the evolution of this critical business document.

The glory days of the annual report

Once upon a time, back when Yahoo was something cowboys said and Gumtree simply meant a native Australian tree, Annual Reports were the centrepiece of every listed company’s arsenal. Sure it was still a compliance document, but companies would go to great lengths to make sure it was going to impress their shareholders. All kinds of wiz-bang papers, effects, graphics and photography were used to woo investors into reassuring them they had their money in the right place.

Time for change

At the turn of the last decade, this all ground to a halt. The Global Financial Crisis started a process that would close the door on those decadent days, prompting a company’s shareholders to question the need for mailing large bulky booklets to every stakeholder. Technology had removed the need to deliver physical copies from the equation. Market conditions had combined with now common-place forms of digital distribution to bring new methods into the norm. This saved companies money and meant shareholders no longer had bulky documents sitting on the kitchen table for a few months.

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The emergence of new standards

Stock markets around the world have now adapted to these digital evolutions and what we’ve seen emerge over the last 5-10 years is a new acceptable standard of practice. It’s not feasible for companies to upload PDF versions to the ASX alongside a separate typeset version for mail. Instead, we now see a single document for both. Elegant papers and fancy printing techniques are irrelevant online. With most markets now very budget conscious, most companies don’t want to look like they have spent large sums on their annual report. With the standard document size limit being less than 20 megabytes, these combined factors have seen the growth of simpler, more concise and functional reports. The modern annual report ensures compliance requirements are presented in plain language with an emphasis on clean, simple design.

The emergence of new methods

These days it’s wise not to just to ‘tick the compliance box’, and investors are expecting more. It’s not really acceptable any more just to host a download link from the investor section of the website. The expectation is for these documents to be viewable on the website through desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile, and have the ability to save or print.

Where to next?

As technology makes online distribution easier, and as markets recover, we’re seeing a move from simple to complex. However, this time it will be different. Already we’ve witnessed the emergence of online ‘Delivering our purpose’ or ‘Beyond the numbers’ reports. These are clear and engaging snapshots of the year’s performance, usually hosted in separate microsites. Often they’re separate from the detailed financial figures and feature engaging storytelling in the form of videos, interviews and interactive tools. The financial statements, governance and other information for shareholders is instead hosted in a download centre within the microsite.

So far, this has been an emerging trend for the larger or more consumer-focused brands. But as standard models become apparent, it’s likely this will become the norm in the future. A future of simple, yet engaging interaction across a wide spectrum of media channels.

If you have any further queries on the production or distribution of annual reports, feel free to contact Cameron or explore more articles like this at www.canningspurple.com.au

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