Information

Value reporting
Prof. Dr Alexander F. Wagner, Dr Sascha Behnk and Leandro Künzli, Department of Banking and Finance

Prof. Dr. Alexander F. Wagner
Prof. Dr Alexander F. Wagner
Dr. Sascha Behnk
Dr Sascha Behnk
Roman Schneider
Leandro Künzli

Value Reporting is a key element in effective investor relations. It is much more than a voluntary disclosurethat extends beyond the guidelines of the stock market regulatory authority and other accounting standards. In fact, value reporting is a chance to give investors additional information that is relevant to their decision-making. Value-orientated reporting should enable an estimate of past and future performance andhighlight any cause-effect correlations between management decisions and value in companies.

At the same time, value reporting entails both benefits and costs for a company: it can eliminate information asymmetries between investors and companies, which improves management credibility and permits more favourable capital market financing. On the other hand, extensive value reporting can be costly and time-consuming and also of little benefit in many competitive situations. For this reason, it is important for the management team to pay sufficient attention to this issue and endeavour to achieve an appropriate balance depending on the situation.

With regard to the value reporting ratings, the primary view taken is that of investors, who are seeking to spend a reasonable amount of time to obtain an idea of the company that they could be considering as a potential investment. However, the evaluationprocess also considers that value reporting appeals to a range of target audiences extending far beyond the immediate circle of investors. Relevant informationshould ultimately also be communicated for the benefit of interested customers, vendors,rating agencies, lenders, investment advisers, the business press and general public, as befits thetarget group.

Besides conventional aspects of value reporting such as communication of non-financial variables or value-orientatedmanagement remuneration, there is growing emphasis on the issues of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Ultimately, CSR is very important to many groups with interests in companies. A growing body of academic literature is evidence of the relevance of CSR. In terms of reporting, expandingthe perspective to include a company’s global footprint can be a good move, not least from a value reporting perspective.

The annual report also carries a lot of weight within a company. The compilation and preparation of the relevant information can thus contribute towards fine-tuning the company’s own orientation and improved internal communication. In this context, the company set-up conveyed in the annual report and its value drivers also offer long-term orientation to the company’s own employees – particularly for new entrants.

Assessment methodology for the value reporting ratings

The value reporting ratings for 2019 were conducted by a team headed up by Prof. Dr Alexander Wagner, Dr Sascha Behnk and Leandro Künzli at the Department of Banking and Finance (DBF)of the University of Zurich. 31 qualified and committed students of Economicsevaluated both the annual reports (value reporting in annual reports) and the company websites (value reporting on the Internet) according to economic criteria based on value reporting.1

In the analysis of value reporting in annual reports, the criteria that play an important role include: substantial background information about the company including explanations of strategy, products and markets together with further details, not always of a financial nature, including e.g. information aboutfuture investments, customer and staffsatisfaction, innovations or brand management. Also included are explanations of trends, significant changesand objectives within the company and its risk management. The value reporting jury picks up on moderate but steady progressin terms of reporting practice and continues to raise the bar higher and higher across the various sets of criteria.

A key question here is which company publications that supplement or go beyond the actual annual report should be considered by the value reporting jury as part ofits assessment. Account is also taken here of recent developments. An increasing number of companies are thus also providing further annual reports separately on their website in addition to the printed annual report; however, these are not always dispatched with the annual report itself. This is particularly the case with the topic of sustainability. For this reason, the jury proactively includes sustainability reports in the evaluation, provided that the latest edition is no more than three years old at the time of the ratings. Other additional publications or information available on the company’s website are also included in the ratings, provided that reference is made to these in the actual annual report – for example, by naming the relevant report or specifying the website – or provided that these reports are detailed on the company’s website alongside the annual report.

In this respect, it is apparent that more and more companies are also publishing the conventional sections of the annual report in a number of individual publications, mostly split between purely quantitative and more qualitative information. Whilst at first glance this approach may allow information to be grouped according to the target group, it can also make it more difficult for the various interested parties to gain a complete overview and find potentially relevant information. Even financial analysts and “number crunchers” are becoming increasingly interested in the qualitative, non-financial context. It should also be noted that information is very often spread throughout the entire annual report, which makes it difficult for investors to obtain a clear view of the company without frequently having to leaf through several hundred pages of long reports to find the relevant information.

Some companies are now also dispensing with the printed annual report altogether. For this reason, the value reporting jury has also, since 2014, considered reports that are only available on the Internet; most of these are available as a PDF, with just a few cases mainly involving a purely interactive website.

In the analysis of value reporting on the Internet, company websites are assessed from the perspective of an investor who wishes to access relevant informationas quickly as possible. The following evaluation criteria are considered in this regard: general information about the company, structure and functionality, company calendar and events, press releases and ad hoc publicity (if listed), reports & financials, analyst documentation, shareholder information, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility, investor relations archive, information service and social media (Investor Relations 2.0) as well as general user-friendliness (“usability”).

To take account of any change in stakeholders and technology,the sub-criteria for value reporting on the Internet were adjusted compared with past years. As part of this revision process, nine previous sub-criteria were removed from the evaluation. Examples include the use of obsolete file formats or the availability of RSSfeeds, which are increasingly being replaced by newer communication channels. At the same time, two new sub-criteria were introduced. These review both the opportunityfor investors to make contact via modern communication channels such as chats and Internet telephony and also the lack of barriers offered by integratedread-aloud functions.2

So as this year’s annual reports ratings apply, on the whole, significantly fewer criteria for value reporting on the Internet, the maximum total score achievable is lower in this area. The corresponding results from the previous year are therefore only partially comparable with a company’s performance this year. Overall,these changes are intended to reflect the growing demands made of companies’ reporting on the Internet.

With value reporting on the Internet, a few sub-criteria are specific to listed companies. As, in principle, only listed companies can satisfy the relevant requirements, these questions are skipped for other companies in the evaluation and disregarded when establishing the final scores. A similar rule also applied until 2018 to value reporting criteria in respect of annual reports. In this year’s ratings, however, all criteria points for the annual report were also approved for unlisted companies. This mainly applies to criteria regarding the companies’ distribution of dividends. The background tothis decision is that unlisted companies alsopay out dividends, for example to equity providers or, as in the case of cantonal banks, to the canton and local authorities.

When evaluating annual reports, each criterion is scored from 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest). When analysing value reporting on the Internet, evaluation is mainly based on the level of satisfaction (available/not available) of the individual criteria, where a few sub-criteria are evaluated according to three scores (0, 1 or 2). In both categories (annual report and Internet), the scores for the individual criteria are weighted, with the average being taken to provide the overall score. The final value reportratings are derived by taking 80% of the overall score for the annual report and 20% of the overall score for the website.

The full value reporting criteria catalogue (print and online), with sample calculations and other rules for evaluating the annual reports, as well as other analyses are available on the DBF website (http://www.bf.uzh.ch/value-reporting). The website also has contributions developed as part of the DBF “value reporting” research project.3

Results of the value reporting ratings for 2019

The winner of the value reporting ratings for 2019 is Clariant. The company had already topped the rankings for value reporting the previous year and managed to further increase the information content across various individual criteria this year. This is evident in areas including discussion of important markets and market shares, customer satisfaction and sustainability. Overall, Clariant made a convincing impact with its outstanding quality across all evaluation criteria for value-orientated reporting – both in the print version of the annual report and in terms of the company’s website.

The value reporting jury once more therefore selected an integrated annual report as the year's best. There is clear crossover between the fundamental approaches of integrated reporting and value reporting. In line with an integrated overall approach, which does not always make easy reading, the various value drivers within the company are presentedand any in-house interdependencies in terms of value creationare also highlighted, taking all of the company’s relevant interest groups into account.4 Clariant had already published its first integrated annual report in 2017 in accordance with the guidelinesof the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

Clariant scored particularly highly in the areas of general impression, background information, objective data and credibility as well as sustainability. The company also impressed the jury with its online presence once more, claiming third place in the category “value reporting on the Internet”.

Second place in the overall ranking for value reporting goes to LafargeHolcim, up from third last year. Third place goes to Swisscom, down one place from last year. Despite the high marks of the next best placed companies such as Geberit, UBS, Straumann, Credit Suisse, Roche, Liechtensteinische Landesbank and VP Bank Vaduz, it was not quite enough for them to feature in the top 3 for value reporting.

The top 20: value reporting ranking 2019

The following table shows the ranking of the 20 companies that came out best in the value reporting ratings for 2019.

Overall ranking   

Value reporting   
in the annual report  

Value reporting
on the Internet

1. Clariant

1

3

2. LafargeHolcim

2

4

3. Swisscom

3

1

4. Geberit

4

21

5. UBS

8

2

6. Straumann

5

37

7. Credit Suisse

6

16

8. Roche

9

8

9. Liechtensteinische Landesbank

7

18

10. VP Bank

19

6

11. Sulzer

15

11

12. Zurich Insurance Group

14

17

13. OC Oerlikon

16

13

14. SGS

12

26

15. Givaudan

17

19

16. Nestlé

21

20

17. St. Galler Kantonalbank

22

23

18. Die Post

13

49

19. Swiss Re

32

5

20. SIKA I

24

33

Value reporting in the annual report

With regard to printed annual reports, an analysis of their content shows that 83 out of 238 companies (34.9%) are rated as satisfactory – in other words, they have an overall scoreof at least 4. After a significant increase between 2015 and 2017 and a decline last year (35.2%), this percentage is therefore about the same as the previous year. However, it is still higher than three years ago (2016: 32.0%). By comparison, just the three best reports were felt to be satisfactory in 2003. This shows that the long-term trend may still be described as cautiously positive. Nevertheless, once again this year, significantly fewer than half of all reports evaluated managed to achieve a satisfactory score. This continues to be a clear indication that many companies are not fully exploiting value-orientated reporting in their annual report.

As in previous years, companies scored particularlywell in the general impression criterion, which analysed the annual report's structure, searchability and the overview provided as well as overall presentation in terms of language and graphics. 87.4% of all companies achieved a satisfactory score here, as can be seen from the table below. In 79.0% of companies, the quality of the background information was also rated as being at least sufficient – particularly in the discussion of the company’s key products and in the section on the organisation of corporate governance. 58.8% of companies assessed also achieved a satisfactory score with regard to risk information, where the presentation of the application of risk management in particular was considered to be good.

Criteria blocks for   
value reporting 2019   

Average   
as a %

Standard
deviation   
as a %

Percentage of
companieS
with a satisfactory
score (at least 4)

1. General impression

4.70

0.84

87.39

2. Background information  

4.40

0.72

78.99

3. Key non-financials

2.99

0.92

17.23

4. Trend analysis

3.26

0.89

26.47

5. Risk information

3.95

1.27

58.82

6. Value-orientated remuneration policy   

3.68

1.11

43.28

7. Management discussion  

3.64

0.88

44.54

8. Objective data and credibility

2.91

1.24

27.31

9. Sustainability

3.17

1.67

39.50

Total (without Internet)

3.61

0.78

34.87

10. Value reporting on the Internet  

3.46

0.61

17.65

Total (with Internet)

3.58

0.72

31.51

Once again this year, the value reporting jury found that most annual reports had changed little comparedwith the previous year. Accordingly, the average scores in thisperiod also only vary significantly for a few individual criteria. The main areas where annualreports received comparatively poor ratings on average were general impression, trend analysis and sustainability. By contrast,any improvement identified was moderate at best and only in the area of value-orientated remuneration policy.

The slightly more negative evaluation of the annual reports across most sub-criteria compared with the previous year can be attributed mainly to the commensurately raised expectations of the value reporting jury in various aspects. This is partly the result of increased demands made by investors and other interest groups, such as in the caseof key non-financials and sustainability. Secondly, the raised expectations are also based on the fact that some companies continue to raise the bar for “best practice” as a result of exemplary preparation of relevant information in certain criteria.

Most annual reports thus have considerable potential for improvement, despite the positive long-term trend that continues to be evident in the area of key non-financials. Investors often search in vain for detailed information on investments in the company’s workforce, branding and customer or employee satisfaction, including the kind supported by survey results and specific measures. There is room for improvement in the area of trend analysis, particularly in terms ofpresenting investment trends over several years. A general criticism levied at the criterion of trend analysis is that, to some extent, progress is only shown through comparison with the previous year. Other annual reports do show the long-term trends but do not provide any detailed commentary on these trends – a key aspect from a value reporting perspective. Additionally, in the area of objective data and credibility, it continues to be virtually impossible for investors to find specific quantification and commentaryin respect of profitability targets set. This makes it hard for an investor to judge whether a long-term investment in a particular company is worthwhile.

On average, corporate sustainability also continues to be inadequately presented. For example, the proportion of companies with a score of at least satisfactory dropped to less than 40% compared with the previous year. Again this year, this criterion reveals the widest divergencebetween companies (standard deviation: 1.67 points), which is mainly due to the fact that some companies do not report on sustainability whilst their competitors sometimes publish comprehensive reports on this topic. Even for many companies that are already reporting in this area, quantitative statements about environmental pollution or social policy are sometimes lacking. Instead of general texts with lots of fillers, descriptions of specific projects and developments are particularly called for here, backed up by figures and examplesin line with value reporting. In this respect, the fact that companies are increasingly orientating their reporting towards sustainability and international standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), is judged to be positive.

As regards value-orientated remuneration policy, there are also many cases where companies fail to present the objectives achieved in the reporting year and the variable remunerationelements derived from these when describing their remuneration system. Whilst more and more companies are at least publishing their attainmentsat an aggregated level, many company reports still fail to provide information on this. It is therefore often difficult for the reader to obtain a clear impression of the connection between remuneration paid and actual management performance (pay-for-performance) from the annual report.

Furthermore, the presentation of “cause-effect relationships” is still in its infancy in most companies, despite a slight amount of growth in this area in the current year. For an investor to obtain an integrated picture of the company and to gain a better understanding of management decisions, a clearerpresentation of the causal relationships in key areas of value reporting would be desirable in future.

Value reporting on the Internet

As well as the actual annual report, the value reporting jury also evaluated the companies’online reporting. The removal of nine previous sub-criteria and the inclusion of two new ones only offer limited scope for comparing the average percentages achieved in 2019 with those from the previous year.5 As regards the sub-criteria not affected by the changes, there was again relatively little movement in terms of content compared with the previous year. From an investor’s perspective, the overall evaluation of websites showed a slight deterioration. One of the reasons for this isthat the value reporting jury this year also raised the bar in the online area due to the constantly evolving technical possibilities associated with investors’ increased demand for information. Nevertheless, it is again clear from a number of criteriapoints that digitalisation and an associated migration of information on value-orientated reporting are continuing apace in terms of companies’ websites. In recent years,some companies have also moved their annual reports across,now including them on their website. In doing this, they have taken the opportunity of designing these reports to be considerably more interactive.

As regards the average scores awarded, companies performed particularly well in the areas of general structure and functionality, general info – company overview, press releases and ad hoc publicity. Value reporting on the Internet requires further improvement, particularly with regard to the categories of company calendar and events, analyst documentation and investor relations archive. There is also continued evidence of potential to increase the use of social media for communication with investors. It is interesting to note here that even amongst the companies that performed very well in terms of theprinted annual report, some are still showing clearsigns of unexploited potential when it comes to online value reporting.

Many companies also still have a relatively simple website, which provides little additional information content for investors. This contrasts with the growing tendency for investors to use this medium to obtain information. Furthermore, online reporting is naturally more environmentally friendly than printing the annual reports.

The following average data is provided from the value reporting ratings for 2019 for the online area:

Criteria block for value reporting   
on the Internet

Average %   
(2019)

Percentage of
companies
with a satisfactory
score6 (higher than 4)

0 General info –
   company overview

57.25

40.34

1 General structure and
   functionality

91.96

98.74

2 Company calendar and events

36.97

28.57

3 Press releases and
   ad hoc publicity

56.23

45.38

4 Reports and financials

47.27

22.69

5 Documentation for analysts

23.65

7.56

6 Shareholder information,
   corporate governance and
   social responsibility

49.23

41.18

7 Investor relations archive

38.94

16.81

8 Information service and
   social media (IR 2.0)

39.92

18.07

9 Usability

48.79

15.97

Overall

49.26

17.65

The climbers in value reporting

Many companies are making a noticeable effort to improve their reporting. In some cases there have been major changes because companies have resolved to disclose much moreinformation or to present it differently. Naturally, such distinct improvements are possible mainly for those companies that were in the middle range of the ranking, or lower, last year. Depending on the ratings achieved by others nearby in the ranking, a moderate increase in score may be sufficient in some cases for a considerableimprovement in terms of the ranking.

For this reason, the value reporting jury considered qualitative aspects as well as the number of points scored. They considered companies to be climbers if significant improvements in the ranking were achieved by means of particular advances in the annual report.

In this year’s value reporting ratings, the service provider and trading group DKSH recorded the greatest qualitative improvement, climbing in the ranking by 28 places. The jury was particularly keen to recognise how DKSH had published, for the first time, a sustainability report in accordance with the GRIstandard (Global Reporting Initiative). The jury believes this topic is particularly significant. This additional report also recorded significant points increases not only in the area of sustainability, but also in terms of key non-financials such as customer and employee satisfaction.

The value reporting jury awarded second place among the climbers to the group known as dormakaba. As well as slightly higher scores in various sections of the annual report, the underlying improvements were particularly based on the increase in quantitative reporting in the area of corporate socialresponsibility. The jury acknowledged the company’smove to make it easier, for the first time, to find more detailed information in the current annual report. The company also managed to pick up more points in the area of valuereporting on the Internet. Overall, a rise of 52 places was achieved on the back of lots of small improvements.

The value reporting jury awarded the final place on the podium to the private banking group EFG, duly recognising it as the third most impressive climber. The company climbed a total of 45 places. Besides points increases in various areas, the main factor here was the firstshowing of specific objective data. The setting out of clear positions and the credibility of these helped the group score a lot of extra points in the area of objective data and credibility. Like the second-placed company in the category of climbers in value reporting, EFG also managed to make its website more user-friendly for investors.

Company

 

DKSH

 

dormakaba

 

EFG

 

 

(1)With the “value reporting” project initiated 20 years ago, the IBF has a long-term research commitment in this area. The theory here was pioneered by Labhart, P. A. (1999): Value Reporting. Informationsbedürfnisse des Kapitalmarktes und Wertsteigerung durch Reporting. Zurich 1999.

(2)The following sets of criteria are affected by the changes: General info – company overview, reports & financials, information service and social media (IR 2.0), usability.

(3)Eugster, F./Wagner, A. (2019): Value reporting and firm performance: Evidence from Switzerland. As published in the Journal of International Accounting, Auditing and Taxation. Download at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1879804. Labhart, P./Volkart, R. (2009): Investor Relations als Wertsteigerungsmanagement. In: Kirchhoff, K. R./Piwinger, M. (ed.): Praxishandbuch Investor Relations. Das Standardwerk der Finanzkommunikation. 2nd Edition, Munich 2009, pp. 201–220. Gamper, P. C./Volkart, R./Wilde, M. (2006): Value Reporting und aktive Investor Relations – Instrumente der Transparenzsteigerung. In: Der Schweizer Treuhänder, No. 9, 2006, pp. 642–647.

(4)Eugster/Wagner (2019) compare and contrast the key aspects of integrated reporting with the value reporting ratings used here. They find many parallels. This no longercomes as a surprise, however, with integrated reporting taking a lot of its inspiration from the value reporting concept. For a critical analysisof the concept of integratedreporting, see Volkart, R. (2015): Finanzielle Berichterstattung im Wandel: Vom Jahresabschluss zum “Integrated Reporting”. In: Der Schweizer Treuhänder, No. 6–7, 2015, pp. 460–486.

(5)The following sets of criteria are affected by the changes: general info – company overview, reports & financials, information service and social media (IR 2.0), usability.

(6)Whilst scores of 1 to 6 are awarded for the printed annual report, the scores in the area of value reporting on the Internet are expressed as percentages. To convertthese to the 1 to 6 scoring system for comparison purposes, the percentages are multiplied by 5 and then 1 is added (percentage*5+1).