In recent years, many firms have discovered an alternative approach to the delivery of board packs. Rather than use printed papers, many boards have moved to an online approach, using portals that deliver board papers via apps or pdfs.
The best of these portals offer firms a choice about the way their board packs are delivered. Others have restrictions on the ways papers are presented or accessed. If you’re thinking about moving to an online approach for board pack delivery, it’s worth finding out your board members’ preferences before committing to a solution – not all portals are created equal!
We found an interesting report recently from The Financial Reporting Lab which looks at how people prefer to receive financial reporting. The Financial Reporting Lab has been set up by the Financial Reporting Council, a body committed to improving the effectiveness of corporate reporting in the UK.
Their report, titled ‘Digital Present’ can be read in full on their website. It looks at ‘corporate reporting in a digital world’, and although it primarily examines how companies are using digital media to communicate with investors, its findings about how people prefer to receive business information are just as relevant for board packs as they are for external communications. As board packs are comparable in nature to investment communications – often being complex, technical and lengthy – it can be assumed that people’s preferences for delivery will be largely similar for both.
Eight companies, 15 institutional investors and five retail investors were interviewed during the research for the report. These interviews were supplemented by an online survey with over 150 retail investor respondents.
The overwhelming finding from the research was that pdf is the preferred medium for annual reports. Investors like the simplicity of the pdf; it is easily accessed across a variety of devices; it is searchable, so that relevant information can be found easily; it is ‘portable’ and easy to share.
Investors also like the fact that the pdf represents a clear ‘point in time’ – it shows a snapshot of the business at a set point, unlike web pages, where it can be unclear when they were last updated. Investors see pdf reports as having the same level of assurance as the equivalent hard copy version.
The report also highlights users’ preferences when it comes to the ways pdf reports are set up and delivered, showing that:
- Optimised pdfs are preferred to e-books and interactive pdfs; keeping it simple is important.
- Reports should be designed with the screen view in mind – too often they are not optimised for on-screen viewing. Landscape orientation and a move away from columns and double-page spreads help with this.
- Respondents wanted to be able to search previous versions of reports and documents; keeping a sufficiently comprehensive archive online (five years was thought essential, with ten useful) is therefore important.
- PDFs should be optimised for searching to allow users to pinpoint relevant information easily and quickly.
Respondents also felt it was important for companies to recognise that they follow various businesses; having reporting tools and channels that are consistent helps with this by making reports easy to access and locate.
The key thing to take away here is the strong preference for simplicity. Often, firms (and solutions providers) err on the side of ‘gimmickry’, thinking that a solution with lots of tricks and add-ons will appeal to users. In fact, this research shows clearly that most users actively dislike over-engineered solutions, preferring optimised pdfs over interactive ones or devices such as e-books.
Assuming that the findings of this research hold true across all business information, they give us some useful insights into board pack preferences. If you are considering a portal-based approach to board papers, or are currently comparing portal options, taking the Financial Reporting Lab’s findings into account should help you to narrow down your choices:
- A portal that allows you to deliver optimised pdfs will be preferred to one that only delivers e-books and interactive pdfs. Simplicity is the key; unnecessarily complex solutions are not as well-received.
- A solution that ensures papers are optimised for on-screen viewing will be preferable – for example, being set up in landscape rather than portrait for ease of reading.
- The ability to archive and easily access previous papers online would be welcomed.
- Consistency of approach across firms helps members who sit on multiple boards or committees to access information in a consistent way for all their meetings.
The report is a useful read, whether your interest is in board papers or financial reporting more widely.