New technology is allowing IROs to ditch the print-outs, improve investor targeting and keep in touch with the buy side
In the last days of last century, a small band of professionals battled to keep a moribund technology alive. IROs were among the last people to keep using faxes, sending out their reports by quire in yellowing, crinkly paper rolls. Now, however, the fax has joined the ticker tape and carrier pigeons as a means of communication, and IROs are supporting the drive to save trees, abandoning paper and taking up the tablet.
‘When I started in the oil and gas business, I was a geophysicist and worked as an exploration manager,’ reminisces David Carey, senior vice president of capital markets at Canada’s ARC Resources. ‘At one point in the early 1990s, as exploration manager of an office in Cairo, I had to communicate with the government oil company by teletype!’
But today, says Carey, his mainstay is his tablet. ‘I put lots of PDFs and presentations on iBooks on my iPad,’ he explains. The firm’s IR website also walks the talk: the site’s banner has a photo of a hand brandishing a tablet with results graphically displayed.
Pass the iPad
‘We don’t bring printed-out presentations. Usually we carry the presentations on our laptops, which we can show round’
For Carey, the tablet has not only replaced the need for paper, but also set-piece presentations. ‘Normally I just bring up material on my iPad and hand it around, I don’t try anything fancy like projecting it on a screen,’ he says. ‘Of course that’s fine in a one-on-one, but even if there are more people, I just pass it to them and show them – just as if it were a book, except you don’t lose the page.
‘I’ve never had any adverse comments from investors, and when they sometimes request materials, you can email the documents to them with a click. And you can always increase the size to show what you’re trying to highlight.’
For an oil and gas company, with a lot of remote locations, technology helps bring to life ARC’s far-flung operations. ‘They’re hard to get to, and hard to explain,’ comments Carey. ‘Why does it take so long to build a gas plant? And what does it look like? On the website, and then with the help of the iPad, I can show people videos of our construction, our major capital outlays. It’s tremendously helpful when it comes to explaining the business.’
While it’s not quite teletype, Carey still constructs his pitch book in the ‘old school way’ with PowerPoint. ‘But I can’t remember the last time we did a page flip,’ he notes. ‘In Asia you can guarantee investors will have printed it off and read it before you arrive. They will always go through it, so we always post it on our website and send it ahead for the people we are meeting with.’
Christine Marchuska, IR manager at VeriFone, confirms the drive from paper to silicon at meetings. ‘We don’t bring printed-out presentations,’ she says. ‘Usually we carry the presentations on our laptops, which we can show round.’ As a result, the payment systems firm may start using presentation app Prezi to display different charts and screens as needed.
‘Then we just have a conversation with our investors and analysts,’ Marchuska explains. ‘There are a lot of people concerned with the penetration of Apple Pay and how many of our terminals can work with it, or the US’ belated arrival in the chip-card world and the effect on our business.
‘We have a lot of statistics on these issues and we really think Prezi would be good for illustrating them. We also have different charts and pictures to illustrate our product lines.’
‘I find it easier to jot down a few notes’
Over at MobileIron, the treasurer and head of IR Samuel Wilson is taking his cue from the clientele. ‘Only 10 percent of the people we meet with take notes on paper, so for our meetings we don’t carry round presentation books,’ he says. ‘We do it all off the iPad and if someone wants a copy, I pass it on. It’s better. We don’t have to lug all that paper around, and it allows us to change and tailor our presentations. Using SlideShark, we just push an iPad over and we can show whatever presentation we want.’
For Wilson, the latest technology also helps him cut through the noise and curate content for investors. ‘This is a busy world; 20 years ago, access to information was the big issue,’ he points out. ‘Today I think it is the opposite: it is filtering the information to find what is relevant and interesting.’
Peter Schuman, senior director of investor relations at Atmel Corporation – itself a high-tech leader – modestly self-assesses that for IR technology, his firm is in the middle of the pack.
‘There are some companies – like Intel – using their website rather than the wire services to do disclosure but we’re not quite there yet,’ he says. ‘Our higher level is our IR database, which I use in multifaceted aspects of our activities. Obviously we input activities there and run reports on activities and targeting, and of course we use it to send personalized emails, with the recipient’s first name, nickname, and so on. You can also send a link instead of a file if the file is too large. It records every single email, so I guess it’s a bit like Big Brother! I use the same database for investor targeting.’
During one-on-one meetings, Schuman relies on his Windows 8 tablet. ‘It’s much more effective and has better battery life, so it lasts a lot longer than a laptop,’ he says. ‘I have full Office on it so I can do anything I can do on my PC.’ He does admit a slight bias in his choice of tech, though: ‘We make the controllers for the touch screen, so we’re in the product. And we do like to eat our own cooking!’
His personal indispensable app is one provided by a major market intelligence firm. ‘It’s highly automated,’ he explains. ‘I’m a small department – I only have 1.2 people – which makes it so critical I’d feel lost if I didn’t have it. It even does briefing documents, and I use it for targeting and to check what I’m doing. Its goal tracker can measure how I’m doing performance-wise in real time. And for roadshows, there’s a mobile app.’
But again, as a self-proclaimed middle-of-the-roader, Schuman admits he tends to print the documents out and then make notes on them. ‘Some people do that in real time, but I find it easier just to jot down a few notes and put them in later,’ he says.
Inspired by some of his IR peers, Schuman says his tech plans for the future include a focus on building up the corporate website. ‘Although we have not yet emulated other companies, we are looking at putting CFO commentary or foreign currency rates on the web, as we have several overseas operations,’ he says.
Other ideas include exploring the use of cloud technology to run presentations. ‘I’d also definitely piggyback on some of the new tools,’ Schuman adds. ‘For example, I just tried out ClearSlide, which allows you to move quickly between multiple documents with a team.’
In these days of tight airline baggage restrictions, there are many reasons to eschew carrying paper presentations about. One not to be forgotten, notes Carey, is the reduced wear and tear on the intrepid IRO. ‘It makes it a lot easier on the shoulders,’ he muses.
The Myron minute
Half of ARC Resources’ investors are retail and, with them in mind, the company does a quarterly ‘Myron minute’: a video clip of CEO Myron Stadnyk. ‘Then we do a roundtable with him and the CFO and COO, so the retail investors and brokers who normally wouldn’t get the chance to see senior management outside an AGM can listen to how we answer questions, like we do with institutional investors,’ says David Carey, senior vice president of capital markets at the oil and gas firm.
Direct to the buy side
This article appeared in the summer 2015 print issue of IR Magazine