39% of companies believe annual reports are too detailed

Companies are undecided about whether the quantity of information contained in annual reports is a good or a bad thing, although the majority still feel annual reporting is a useful exercise, according to research by ICSA: The Governance Institute and recruitment specialist The Core Partnership

Some 39% of those polled felt that companies are required to disclose too much information, while a similar amount (38%) disagreed and 23% were unsure. Despite this, a majority of respondents (78%) think annual reporting is useful, with only 7% believing it is not and 15% unsure.

Respondents who felt too much information is disclosed described a lot of reporting as ‘self-congratulatory waffle’, while others felt the blame laid with regulators who they said ‘are too isolated from real business life, and this has an adverse impact on the rules they come up with.’

Specific criticisms included information which was too detailed to be totally comprehensible to shareholders; signs of a tick box exercise; and concerns that the annual report has become a source of obsolete information and it would be more useful for stakeholders to receive information in real time.

Those who were in favour of current practice said the information companies are required to disclose is extremely useful in giving investors and others a comprehensive understanding of the company, its culture, its business and its longer-term prospects.

It is the only time the non-institutional shareholders are given the chance to see a comprehensive report from the company’s board that is not governed by marketing spin, and while access to verified live financial data would be preferable, that is some way away.

Peter Swabey, policy and research director at ICSA: The Governance Institute. Said: ‘The crux of the matter lies in the amount of time, money and resources required to produce a once-a-year product that is read by a very limited audience.

‘Certain information might more usefully be reported online, while it would also be beneficial if companies could move away from boilerplate to report on more bespoke matters of relevance to them and their stakeholders.’

Report by Pat Sweet

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