ABIRD conference 2015: Unlocking potential
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Association of Bulgarian Investor Relations Directors (ABIRD) and saw the trade body invite IROs, speakers and guests to Sofia in order to celebrate properly. The conference was subtitled 'IR nowadays - in the eye of the tiger', and reflected the amazing potential for Bulgaria's capital market, despite a recent downturn.
Attendees were welcomed by Daniela Peeva, chair of ABIRD’s managing board, after which Nadia Nedelcheva, portfolio manager of the Advance Emerging Europe Opportunities Fund, gave an overview of the status, priorities and expectations of the Bulgarian capital markets.
Andreas Posavac, director of corporate services at Ipreo
She explained that Bulgaria’s is a small, falling market, with its total market cap dropping from €15 bn ($17 bn) in 2007 to less than €4 bn today. Of the 170 companies listed on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange – Sofia (BSE – Sofia), only 50 can be considered ‘truly public’, there’s a lack of new companies being created and liquidity is slowly worsening. ‘It is, unfortunately, the reality we are dealing with,’ Nedelcheva summarized.
But there are opportunities on the horizon: a few large companies, including Sirma, one of Bulgaria’s largest IT companies, have IPOs planned this year, there is hunger from local investors and the market has what Nedelcheva calls ‘solid catch-up potential’.
With the stage set for the afternoon, a raft of other speakers turned their attention to the potential power of IR in this landscape. Andreas Posavac, director of corporate services at Ipreo, explored what investors want from good IR: access to management, proactivity and education. ‘IROs here don’t travel too much – you have to get yourself in front of a worldwide audience,’ he advised.
Sophia Argirova-Atanasova, managing partner of Investor Relations Services and a member of the ABIRD board, revealed a few facts about the association’s members. Despite once being seen as ‘equal to receptionists’, IROs are now well paid and well respected in the region, she explained. She and Nikos Polymenakos, head of IR at Greek gaming firm OPAP, looked at how takeaways from Greek IROs might help their Bulgarian counterparts.
Jennie Guay, director of channel relations for the UK & EMEA at Investis, and Dario Mezzaqui, managing partner at the Message Group, then explored the role of digital in IR and corporate communications. While Guay highlighted the importance of how a website is organized, Mezzaqui noted that the IR website can be crucial for engaging not only an investment community, but also interested customers. ‘We have to start thinking like publishers, reporters, bloggers, reviewers or authors,’ he added.
There were quick catch-ups with Bloomberg and Reuters, which explained how their services might help Bulgarian IROs, before an innovative ‘lunch and learn’ session looked at new fair disclosure tools in light of incoming European regulation.
After lunch, there were sessions examining how issuers could meet investors’ expectations, as well as a look at sustainability communications and what level of this information might be appropriate in a new IR program. Marina Stefanova, executive director of the UN Global Compact Network Bulgaria, and Miguel Santisteve, associate director at NASDAQ OMX, touched on integrated reporting as a driving force for change. They explored the maxim ‘transparency leads to better performance’, and suggested that disclosing more means a company can reflect and change faster.
One of the day’s final sessions welcomed representatives from IR societies around the world to discuss IR education. Kay Bommer, general manager of German IR association DIRK, explained some of the thoughts behind his association’s CIRO qualification, while John Gollifer, general manager of the UK’s IR Society, had some suggestions for how to adapt such programs for Bulgarian IROs. There was even time for Michael McGough of NIRI to reveal a few bits of information about its new certification: it’s going live in December for IROs to register, with the first exams taking place in March 2016.
A look at the proposed European Capital Markets Union and the upcoming European Shareholder Rights Directive rounded off the afternoon, before we were all whisked away to the Arena di Serdica, a hotel with the crumbling ruins of a Roman amphitheater preserved in the basement. It was here that ABIRD recognized the top Bulgarian IR performers, as determined by a survey conducted alongside BSE – Sofia. There were awards for best IR website, best IR initiatives and best communications, and the title of best IR director was awarded to Peeva for her work with Monbat.
ABIRD award winners. From left to right: Daniela Peeva, IR director at Monbat (best IR director), Atanas Dimitrov, IR director at Advance Terrafund (best strategic development, management and risk communications), Teodora Ivanova, IR director at Agria Group (best IR website), Nikolay Mitankin, IR director at Stara Planina (best communications with investors and stakeholders) and Pelagia Viatcheva, IR director at Soparma (best IR initiatives)