Information

Value Reporting
Prof. Dr. Alexander F. Wagner, Dr. Sascha Behnk and Roman Schneider, Institute for Banking and Finance

Alexander F. Wagner
Prof. Dr. Alexander F. Wagner
Ermir Binakaj
Dr. Sascha Behnk
Roman Schneider

In the Swiss annual reports rating for 2017, the annual reports of all the companies represented in the Swiss Performance Index (SPI) were assessed. The list has also been supplemented by other companies, some of them unlisted, so that the 50 Swiss companies with the highest turnover, the 25 banks with the highest balance sheet total and the 15 insurance companies which according to finma have the highest actuarial income were included in the rating. Overall therefore, the 2017 annual reports rating cover 230 companies.

This sample was assessed by a total of three juries. Firstly, by the Value Reporting Jury headed by Prof. Dr. Alexander F. Wagner, Institute for Banking and Finance, at Zurich University, who judged the value reporting both in the printed annual reports and on the corresponding Internet sites. Secondly, the Design Jury, headed by Jonas Voegeli, of Zurich University of the Arts, assessed the design of the annual reports both in the printed version and online. The overall ranking by these two juries created a list of the 12 top placed Annual Reports (Print and Online). From this ranking, the ten person final jury which consisted not just of representatives of the Value Reporting and Design Jury but of other specialist practitioners went on to determine this year's three overall winners.

Value Reporting as an aspect of Investor Relations

Examination of essential aspects of long-term enterprise value development takes place not just in the broad public but above all among investors. Here, themes such as sustainability and entrepreneurial corporate responsibility as well as an optimal incentive through balanced compensation systems are the focus of attention. For all these topics communication in the relationship between the company and its investors plays an important role.

Here, Value Reporting is a central element of effective Investor Relations. This involves far more than voluntary disclosure extending beyond the guidelines of stock market supervision and other accounting standards. On the contrary, Value Reporting enables investors to be provided with additional information relevant to their decision-making. Value Reporting should permit an assessment of past and future value development. In this respect, value reporting brings both benefits and costs for a business: on the one hand it can break down information asymmetry between investors and companies, so enhancing management credibility and permitting more favourable financing on the capital market. On the other hand, extensive Value Reporting can be complex and less helpful in many competitive situations. That makes it important for the management to pay sufficient attention to this topic and strike a suitable balance appropriate to the situation.

In the context of the Value Reporting rating, the primary viewpoint is that of investors who wish to gain an idea of the company which is relevant for a potential investment within a reasonable time frame. However, the valuation process also takes account of the fact that Value Reporting is aimed at a great many target audiences extending far beyond investors. In the final analysis, relevant information should also be communicated in a way appropriate to the particular target group for customers, rating agencies, lenders, investment advisers, the economic press and the general public. Here, the annual report is particularly important not just within the enterprise itself. The compilation and preparation of the relevant information can contribute to a sharper in-house focus and improved internal communication. The presentation of the enterprise given in the annual report and that of its value drivers provides sustainable guidance not just for external interest groups but also for personnel – especially newcomers.

Method used to decide the Value Reporting rating

The Value Reporting rating for 2017 was made by a team headed by Prof. Dr. Alexander Wagner, Dr. Sascha Behnk and Roman Schneider of the Institute for Banking and Finance (IBF) at Zurich University. 30 qualified and committed students of economic sciences assessed both the annual reports and the corporate websites (Value Reporting on the Internet) on the basis of business management criteria for Value Reporting purposes.1

In the analysis of the annual reports the following criteria play a particularly important role: substantial background information about the enterprise including explanations of its strategy, products and markets, and other sometimes non-financial information, which contains details of future investments, customer and staff satisfaction, innovations and brand management. Explanations of trends and major changes in the enterprise are also important together with information about value-based compensation policy, risk management and sustainability reporting.

Some companies place further annual reports separately on their website, over and above the printed report but they do not always send these out with the annual report itself. This applies in particular to the theme of sustainability. Some companies also describe the classical areas of the annual report in a number of different individual publications, generally separated according to strictly quantitative and some qualitative data. While this approach seems at first sight to facilitate a target group orientated bundling of information it may at the same time make it hard to obtain an overview and hence trace information that may be relevant to interested parties. Even for financial analysts and “numbers persons” the qualitative, non-financial context is becoming increasingly important. Some companies also dispense completely with their printed annual report. In the light of these trends the Value Reporting Jury has also taken account since the 2014 reporting year of reports that are available only on the Internet (in PDF) format.

In the analysis of Value Reporting on the Internet the corporate websites are assessed from the standpoint of an investor who wishes to obtain the relevant information as quickly as possible. The following assessment criteria are used here: general information about the business, structure and functionality, corporate calendar and events, press releases and ad hoc publicity (if rated), reports & financials, documents for analysts, shareholder information, Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility, Investor Relations Archive, Information Service and Social Media (IR 2.0) as well as general user-friendliness (“Usability”).

In assessing the annual reports, each criterion is given a mark between 1 (worst performance) and 6 (top performance). When examining Value Reporting on the Internet, the degree of fulfilment of the individual criteria (present/absent) is mainly measured and a few sub-criteria assessed in steps of three (0, 1 or 2). In both categories (Print and Online) marks for the individual criteria are weighted and an overall mark is calculated as an average in each case. Then, the overall mark given to the annual report accounts for 80% and the overall mark for the Internet presence 20% of the final Value Reporting rating.

The complete catalogue of Value Reporting (Print and Online) and other evaluations can be seen on the IBF website (http://www.bf.uzh.ch/go/Value-Reporting). In addition, contributions which form part of the “Value Reporting” research project at the ibs will be found there.2

Results of the Value Reporting rating in 2017 – consistent quality with little movement in the top segment

As was the case in previous years, Swisscom was again the winner of the Value Reporting rating in 2017. The company carried conviction with its quality extending across all assessment criteria in value reporting – both in the printed version of the annual report and on the company's website.

In the print sector, the enterprise achieved top marks for general impression and sustainability and continues to set standards in these areas. The telecommunications service provider which took third place last year for its printed annual report now occupies the second position in this category with consistently high marks for all criteria and a slightly improved assessment for target data and credibility. Only Geberit, headed up Swisscom here in the print sector taking first place as it had done in the previous year. Swisscom also convinced the experts again for its online presence and moved up one place to number three for the Value Reporting on the Internet criterion as compared to the previous year. For the web presence rating Swisscom was led this year by Roche in place two and Credit Suisse as number one. The merger of the two sub-categories enabled Swisscom to take first place for the overall value reporting rating again in 2017.

As in 2016 LafargeHolcim ranked second in the overall Value Reporting assessment. In the previous year the business had already impressed reviewers for the consistently high quality of its printed annual report and especially through an improved rating of the Internet presence. A newcomer to place three in the overall Value Reporting assessment is UBS, which pushed Straumann down to 4th place from last year. Alongside slightly higher assessments for various sub-criteria UBS showed an improvement in 2017 especially for Key Non-Financials in the print sector. Despite high assessments alongside Straumann the next companies Geberit, SGS, Credit Suisse, Clariant, Sulzer and Zürcher Kantonalbank also failed to make the Top 3 for Value Reporting.

The Top 20: Value Reporting ranking for 2017

The following overview shows the ranking of the 20 companies, which topped the Value Reporting rating for 2017.

Overall rating ranking

Value Reporting Print

Value Reporting Online/IR

1. Swisscom

2

3

2. LafargeHolcim

3

6

3. UBS

8

5

4. Straumann

4

22

5. Geberit

1

35

6. SGS

6

17

7. Credit Suisse

11

1

8. Clariant

12

9

9. Sulzer

5

47

10. Zürcher Kantonalbank

7

39

11. Sika

13

21

12. Nestlé

16

26

13. Givaudan

15

31

14. OC Oerlikon

21

14

15. Swiss Re

22

10

16. St. Galler Kantonalbank

17

40

17. Die Post

9

78

18. Liechtensteinische Landesbank

10

77

19. Barry Callebaut

25

18

20. Syngenta

20

41

Value Reporting in the annual report: the positive trend continues

Looking at the printed annual reports, analysis of the content shows that 90 out of 230 companies (39.1%) were rated satisfactory i.e. with an overall mark of at least 4. That proportion is significantly higher than in 2016 (32.0%) and 2015 (34.1%). Overall therefore following last year’s stagnation a positive reporting trend is continuing. While in 2003 the three best reports were rated satisfactory, three years ago the figure was just 28.8%. However, this year distinctly less than one-half of all the rated reports achieved a satisfactory mark. Once again this is a clear sign that for many businesses the printed version of the annual report has insufficient potential for Value Reporting.

As was the case in previous years companies did particularly well under the General Impression criterion for which structure, traceability and overview, as well as linguistic and graphic presentation in the annual report were assessed. Here, 89.6% of all businesses received an adequate mark, as the following table shows. In addition, the quality of the background information received at least a satisfactory mark for 82.2% of companies – especially in the discussion of important products of the business and in the area of the organisation of Corporate Governance. In addition, once again more than half the companies received an adequate mark for Risk information; here, the presentation of the use of risk management was felt to be particularly good.

Average

Standard variation

Percentage of
companies
with a satisfactory
mark (over 4) in %

1. General Impression

4,82

0,86

89,6

2. Background Information

4,50

0,73

82,2

3. Important non-financials

3,01

0,94

17,4

4. Trend analysis

3,36

0,89

30,4

5. Risk information

3,98

1,30

59,1

6. Value-Ied compensation policy

3,75

1,08

48,3

7. Management discussion

3,66

3,66

43,9

8. Target data and credibility

2,70

1,20

21,3

9. Sustainability

3,26

1,68

44,8

Overall (exc. web)

3,64

0,78

39,1

10. Value Reporting on the Internet

3,42

0,57

14,0

Overall (inc. web)

3,60

0,71

34,6

When looking at the development compared to the previous year, alongside a distinctly higher assessment for the criterion of Value-based Compensation Policy better marks were also awarded this year for Important Non-Financials and Trend analysis. The printed annual reports were rated comparatively rather more weakly for target data and credibility, followed by General Impression and background information. The downgrading here was, however, relatively moderate.

Despite the positive long-term trend, the bulk of the annual reports still have substantial potential for improvement in the area of Important Non-Financials. Investors will often search in vain for relevant information about brand management and customer or staff satisfaction including support for these factors from the results of surveys and concrete measures. In the area of trend analysis there is a need to catch up, especially in the presentation of the investment trend across several years and a plausible explanation of these developments. In addition, it is seldom possible for investors to find concrete quantifications and commentaries on the profitability and net profit targets set in the area of target data and credibility. This makes it harder for investors to estimate whether an investment in a particular company is worthwhile in the long term.

It remains the case that corporate sustainability continues on average to be presented inadequately. Under this criterion there is the biggest discrepancy overall between companies due primarily to the fact that some companies present no Sustainability Reporting while their competitors do sometimes publish extensive reports on this topic. In the case of many companies, which already produce an appropriate report, quantitative statements about environmental pollution or social policy are sometimes lacking. Instead of general texts with many placeholders there is a particular need here for Value Reporting purposes for descriptions of concrete projects and developments backed up by numbers and examples.

This year’s improvement in the field of Value-guided compensation policy is significant. Nevertheless, in many cases we observe a failure to present the goals achieved in the reporting year and the variable compensation elements derived from that performance in the description of the remuneration system. While an increasing number of companies publish at the very least the attainment of targets at aggregated level in many annual reports no information is still being provided about this aspect. That often makes it hard for the reader to gain a clear impression of the relationship between the compensation paid and the management performance (Pay-for-Performance).

In addition, mention should be made here of the fact that information is very often spread across the entire annual report making it difficult for investors to obtain a clear picture of the business, without which often reports running to several hundred pages have to be sifted through to find relevant information. As already mentioned, the overview and access to information are still more difficult if annual reports are divided into several reports that are published separately.

Another point is that the presentation of cause and effect relationships is still in its infancy with most companies. To give investors a comprehensive image of the enterprise and enable management decisions to be understood more readily a clearer presentation of the causal relationships would be desirable in future in the key areas of Value Reporting.

Value Reporting on the Internet: slight improvements in every sector

Alongside the printed annual report, a close study was also made of Value Reporting on the Internet. Here, it was found that digitisation and hence a shift of information towards value reporting on the website of the companies is progressing further. As compared to the previous year a positive trend can be reported for all the main criteria in 2017 as the following table shows. In addition in recent years some companies have begun to integrate annual reports into their website. By doing so they have used an opportunity to make the site much more interactive.

Overall, the businesses do particularly well for General structure and functionality, press releases and ad hoc publicity (for listed companies) and also in the presentation of shareholder information about Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility. In addition, it is apparent under the headings of press releases and ad hoc publicity, documentation for analysts and in relation to the Investor Relations archive, that businesses are making greater use than before of the potential of their websites for Value Reporting purposes. As compared to the previous year the biggest improvement in ratings was reported in these areas.

However, the improvements are not as extensive as might have been hoped. For instance, Value Reporting on the Internet requires further improvements despite those already mentioned, especially in the categories of documentation for analysts, Investor Relations Archive and Corporate Calendar and Events. There is a further great potential for expansion in the use of Social Media for communication with investors.

Significantly, even many of the companies which achieved very good results for their printed annual reports, still show some distinct unused potential for online Value Reporting. Just under one-half of all the companies which made it this year to the Top 12 for printed annual reports are positioned between ranks 35 and 78 in the assessment of their websites.

In addition, many companies still have a very simple website which only gives investors limited additional information content. This conflicts with the tendency for investors to make increasing use of this medium to gain information. Online reporting is of course better from the ecological standpoint than printing annual reports.

The following average data are obtained from the Value Reporting Rating 2017 for the online presence:

Average
in %
(2016)

Average
in %
(2015)

Percentage of
companies
with a satisfactory
mark (over 4) in %

0 General info –
 Company overview

55,20

49,73

44,7

1 General structure and
 functions

87,66

91,94

94,7

2 Company calendar and events

33,07

30,89

25,0

3 Press releases and
 ad hoc publicity

77,85

67,35

41,7

4 Reports & Financials

41,41

43,52

11,4

5 Analysts's documentation

30,48

27,23

2,9

6 Shareholder information,
 Corporate Governance and
 Social Responsibility

65,85

60,78

41,2

7 Investor relations archive

35,38

34,81

12,3

8 Information service and
 Social Media (IR 2.0)

35,03

30,94

8,3

9 Usability

55,11

52,99

40,8

10 Overall

50,65

49,23

11,0

Value Reporting newcomers

Many companies are making a distinct effort to improve their reporting. Some substantial changes have been made because companies have resolved to disclose significantly more information or present it differently. These clear improvements of ranking are naturally possible mainly for those businesses which were still in the middle of the field or in the lower sector of the ranking last year. Here – depending on the assessments made in the own ranking environment – moderate gains of further points may be enough to achieve a distinct improvement of the ranking.

In this year’s Value Reporting Rating the textile company Calida achieved the highest improvement of ranking, gaining 52 places. As compared to the previous year the qualitative part of the annual report was greatly extended so that the business achieved more points under many Value Reporting criteria in its printed annual report. The most points were gained in the areas of trend analysis and management discussion.

In second place among the rising companies we find the Investment and Consultancy company Swiss Finance & Property which gained 50 places compared to the previous year. These improvements are also based on an extension of the qualitative part of the annual report, especially the first inclusion of a section on sustainability. Apart from this discussion of environmental and social topics the company also gained points in other areas, for instance in that of Important Non-Financials.

The insurance company Helvetia as the third strongest gainer also recorded higher marks for various assessment criteria. In particular, the Value Reporting Jury acknowledged a clear implementation of the sustainability strategy and improvements in management discussion. Overall, the company gained 42 places.

Company 

Rank improvement

Calida

+52

Swiss Finance & Property

+50

Helvetia

+42

Outlook: Investors want relevant information

In the context of the Swiss Annual Reports Rating for 2017, the annual reports that were assessed saw a positive trend for a majority of Value Reporting criteria. However, the overall trend as in the previous years proved relatively moderate despite some progressive reports. The key factor here is that in many cases practically no change was observed in the qualitative part of the annual report. In some cases, information which can be easy to generate and fundamental details of long term value generation in the company were not provided. This shows that an awareness of the importance of Value Reporting in communication with internal and external interest groups has not been fully utilised as yet by some companies.

There is no general Best Practice to prescribe for every business which voluntary information should be contained in the annual report and to what extent and in what form this should be presented. Each company can and must itself take deliberate decisions on Value Reporting policy. Some general trends can however be noted. In particular the Integrated Reporting (IR) framework is becoming increasingly important in Switzerland despite some aspects3 which require closer attention. One good example this year is the speciality chemicals company Clariant which published for the financial year 2016 its first integrated annual report drawn up in compliance with the directives of the International Integrated Reporting Council. Even if in previous years Clariant already communicated many important aspects of Value Reporting in its annual report and therefore did very well in the rating up to now, the company has shown by taking this step a growing awareness of the importance of a framework of this kind which is very close to Value Reporting.4

The fact that this awareness is also growing among investors with an increasing demand for the relevant information is apparent from the widely discussed theme of management remuneration which has a bearing on voting. According to a survey by the Swiss voting rights consultant swipra a majority of investors (53.6%) believe that the management compensation in listed Swiss companies bears no reasonable relationship to proven performance.5 An explanation of this resides in a potentially inadequate disclosure of Pay-for-Performance. Only 8.9% of investors were clearly satisfied with the available information on this matter. A clear discrepancy exists between the need of investors for relevant information in this area and the willingness of companies to make sure that information is available. Just 17.7% of companies stated that for the presentation of topics relevant to compensation they spent most time explaining the Pay-for-Performance ratio in preparation for the general meetings. At the same time many investors are now willing to vote against compensation items on the agenda of the General Meetings if the system as communicated does not meet their requirements.

It remains to be seen whether similar demands of investors will also be put increasingly by this important interest grouping to the companies concerned on other aspects relevant to value reporting. The wish for relevant information and understanding of the all-round activity of the enterprise does however clearly show that it is often no longer sufficient to communicate what a company is doing; on the contrary the management could explain in more detail, why certain decisions are thought to be the right ones.

 

(1)With its “Value Reporting” project set up nearly 20 years ago the IBF has a sustained commitment to research in this area. The ground-breaking publication on this subject was Labhart, p. a. (1999): Value Reporting. Information needs of the capital market and value enhancement by reporting. Zurich 1999.

(2)Volkart, R. (2015): Financial Reporting in flux. From annual financial statement to “Integrated Reporting”. In: Der Schweizer Treuhänder, No. 6–7, 2015, S 460–486. Eugster, F./Wagner, A. (2017): Value reporting quality, operating performance, and stock market valuations. Working Paper, IBF, University of Zurich 2017. Downloadable at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1879804. Labhart, P./Volkart, R. (2009): Investor Relations as value enhancing management. In: Kirchhoff, K. R./ Piwinger, M. Ed..): Practical handbook for investor relations. Standard work for financial communication. 2nd edition, Munich 2009, page 201–220. Gamper, P. Ch./Volkart, R./Wilde, M. (2006): Value Reporting and active Investor Relations – Instruments to enhance transparency. In: Der Schweizer Treuhänder, No. 9, 2006, page 642–647.

(3)See Volkart (2015), footnote 2 above.

(4)Eugster/Wagner (2017), footnote 2 above, show in tabular form the relationship between the Value Reporting Rating and the core components of the IR framework.

(5)swipra (2016): Corporate Governance between Globalization, Shareholder Activism and Proxy Advisor: http://swipra.ch/wp-content/uploads/SWIPRA_Survey2016_Results_web.pdf. Wagner is Chairman of the swipra foundation council. Behnk is a Research Associate at swipra.