NIRI 2015 roundup: part two

Jun 18, 2015
<p>A recap of Tuesday and Wednesday at the world&rsquo;s biggest IR conference</p>

The city of Chicago was in party mood on Monday night following the Stanley Cup triumph of local hockey team the Blackhawks. Many NIRI conference attendees were out at exhibitor parties during the game and, when they left to head home, found themselves sharing the streets with thousands of celebrating fans decked out in the team’s red and black colors.

The following morning’s sessions continued the lively mood. The first panel saw three CFOs quizzed on a range of topics from career advancement to risk management, traveling with brokers and board-director interactions. With regard to the latter, one of the CFOs thought it was broadly a bad idea: investors like to get in the weeds and that’s not what boards should be taking about, he said.

The session moderator, IR Magazine’s editorial director Neil Stewart, also brought up a recent and rather bizarre piece of academic research that found a link between the size of a CFO’s signature and the chance of accounting misstatements. The signatures of the three panelists were then revealed on the big screen, with one dramatically enlarged for comic effect!

Next up was a fireside chat with Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter and local resident known for his outspoken opinions and occasional rants delivered from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. To introduce the session, a collection of Santelli’s finest outbursts was played on the screen. He then fielded questions for an hour on areas including corporate tax, the global economy and presidential hopefuls, responding throughout with passionate and lengthy statements (as you might expect).

Given that the audience was full of individuals who must present and give speeches on a regular basis, an interesting question put to Santelli was simply: what is the secret of your energy? His answer was equally straightforward: I love studying the market, he replied.

Tuesday afternoon began with a series of sponsored thought leadership sessions. During one held by Bloomberg, the support role IR provides to media relations was highlighted. A West Coast-based IRO on the panel asked how many members of the audience get regular calls from corporate communications asking how they should respond to a journalist’s financial inquiry, and nearly everyone in the room raised a hand. This is why I think financial media relations should report into IR, said the IRO.

It was then time for sector breakout sessions, before delegates returned to the services showcase for the final time. At this point in the conference, exhibitors give away prizes to people who have stopped by their booth during the week. This year’s most popular giveaway was, without a doubt, the new Apple smartwatch, but other prizes ranged from gift vouchers and hotel stays to an Oculus Rift virtual reality machine for one lucky individual.

Wednesday: holders and traders

The final day of the 2015 annual conference started with a talk from Jason Schenker of Prestige Economics. After that, three buy-siders from Adage, Citadel and Fidelity joined Beth Saunders of Commodore Intelligence to shoot the breeze about all things IR. Kathy Buck of Fidelity made the interesting point that she didn’t think IROs should spend too much time targeting individual portfolio managers who they think should buy the stock. Instead, they should concentrate on crafting their message and disseminating it properly – good stories will be found, she said.

Turning to the topic of corporate access, which featured in many sessions during the week, Citadel’s Francois Drouin and Matt Schuldt of Adage stressed their dislike of sell-side conferences. Drouin pointed out that his firm was very happy to travel to companies to get the type of access it wants: we will fly people from our offices in Chicago, San Francisco and New York to you for one meeting, he said. But the panelists also had good things to say about the sell side: all agreed that there are three-to-five analysts in each sector who are leading voices and demand to be listened to.

The final part of the conference featured hands-on workshops. One took advantage of the location: IROs received a lesson in options trading at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). CBOE’s head of IR, Deborah Koopman, started the trip by giving an introduction to the exchange, which now trades more than 4 mn contracts per day.

Next Marty Kearney, a former trader who is now a consultant, gave a crash course in what options are and why investors use them (three broad reasons: to reduce risk, enhance returns and target a selling price). The visit climaxed with a tour of the exchange floor, where there are still two physical pits with traders crammed together, watching multiple screens and shouting orders to each other. You are responsible for the results of any hand waving you do while you’re out there, joked Kearney.

Click here to read our NIRI 2015 roundup: part one

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