The IR community traditionally boasts a large group of veteran IROs. In the US, the motherland of IR, NIRI recognizes the most talented young individual in the investor relations community in its 40 Under 40 program. While that is a spotlight for millennials, it doesn’t include Gen Z IR professionals – perhaps because there aren’t many Gen Z IR practitioners to start with.
Many say that’s set to change and argue that the IR profession is attracting younger professionals, possibly a testament to the increasing number of younger investors coming to the space. The way those investors interact, the platforms they use to gather information about businesses and the factors they benchmark companies against are changing. So why is the IR industry still mostly made up of seasoned IROs?
‘You need to be able to manage your stakeholders with maturity,’ says Christine Lau, head of IR at CelcomDigi.
Lau, an IRO under 35 with 10 years of IR experience, acknowledges that it’s not easy to find IROs under the age of 40. While she believes that is set to change, she says there is a reason why IR practitioners are traditionally more mature.
‘Younger generations tend to be more emotional when it comes to conversing and, unfortunately, [as IROs] we can’t do that when dealing with bankers, fund managers or other shareholders,’ she explains. ‘You need higher emotional intelligence and [while] anyone can have that, it also comes with practice.’
IR practitioners point out that the profession is evolving and part of that evolution is that IR is becoming a career people choose rather than one they fall into.
‘Many years ago, IR wasn’t a corporate function you learned in a textbook. Now, it has established itself as a career path in the academic setting,’ says Foli Pontillo, global head of investor engagement and perception at Nasdaq. ‘Early career professionals will not simply fall into or transition into IR; they can now gear up for a direct path to the IR function.’
Younger generations have higher expectations from their careers and have become more selective when choosing a company to work for. ‘This has to do with flexibility, freedom of speech and rights,’ Lau explains.
Pontillo also notes that ‘career expectations are higher coming into IR today and will continue to be in the future. Today, there are many more opportunities for those in IR, whether newer generations want to continue to expand and elevate within the IR function over time, or move beyond IR into other senior executive roles.’
Lau adds that younger generations coming into IR are paying more attention to whether the company’s management team supports the function and says they value the ‘empowerment and supportive culture’ within a company.
‘Whether it’s demonstrating that your company believes in freedom of speech [or communication another ESG commitment], you need to be upholding high integrity and flexibility,’ she says. ‘You need to be able to demonstrate that you champion digitalization in the IR space and use an angle that resonates with [younger generations].’
When it comes to leadership and mentorship, Pontillo also notes it’s important for companies to offer younger IR professionals greater insight into company processes.
‘As younger generations of talent aim to make a positive impact on the world, it’s paramount to have a well-defined purpose and vision with a clear link to an IR professional’s day-to-day responsibilities and activities,’ she says.
‘If I put myself in the shoes of younger IR professionals coming into the corporate space, I would want an accessible and inclusive leadership team that invites me to listen to conversations early on and grow into an influential voice at the table, receiving recognition and visibility for valuable contributions along the way. Lastly, companies should provide an allowance for continuing education coursework, access to industry events, formal mentorship and wellness support.’
Others would argue that in the workplace the importance of recognition of effort and development opportunities transcend generational changes. For Lynn Antipas Tyson, executive director of investor relations at Ford Motor Company and a member of the board of directors at Q2 Holdings, companies should always be able to create a challenging and fair environment for employees to thrive.
‘People want the same thing from their chosen field – it doesn’t matter what generation they are from,’ she says. ‘What they want is to be challenged, to be treated fairly, to be valued and developed. This transcends gender, race, ethnicity and generation. It’s true that for Gen Z, or younger generations, staying at a company for 30 years now is inconceivable, but what that means from a company perspective is that you have to keep them motivated and challenged and allow them to thrive.’
As technology advances, companies find themselves more often than they like to admit forced to enter unknown territories. Whether that’s using a new social media platform or trialing a new artificial intelligence tool, there is a sense of urgency for any business to stay up to date with the latest technological developments. From an IR perspective, it’s important to consider how the skills needed to perform the role are changing.
Lau says it’s paramount for IR practitioners to constantly upskill themselves and try new ways to engage with their shareholders. She notes that while the core skills in IR remain the same, complementary skills will require thorough technological expertise, data analytics and an understanding of artificial intelligence tools.
She stresses that the generational shift is also happening at the other end of the spectrum: investors are also becoming younger: ‘Just look at the demand and supply: today, richer younger generations are willing to invest their money so you need a younger group of IR professionals who speak the language of these investors.’