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Jul 04, 2023

ESG, AI and cyber-security top themes at DIRK 2023

Attendance up at this year’s annual conference, held in Frankfurt in June

In a Q&A with IR Magazine, Kay Bommer, CEO of the German IR association DIRK, discusses the main disruptors impacting the German IR community today.

What was the attendance like at DIRK’s annual conference this year?

This year, we had close to 500 registrations for the annual conference, up more than 10 percent on last year, when it was already significantly up compared with pre-pandemic figures. There was an incredible atmosphere at the event this year. We were able to put together a conference with a good mixture of keynote speeches, panels and workshops on burning themes affecting the IR world today.

Kay Bommer, DIRK
Kay Bommer, DIRK 

The speakers were also extremely positively received this year, many of them new names. One of the differences in terms of keynote speakers is that in the past we would look exclusively for big names, CEOs at large-cap companies, for example, but this year we looked for speakers who had something interesting to say. We had more than 30 different sessions and workshops, plus keynotes and other panels, all featuring top speakers.

Why did DIRK opt for an in-person-only format for this year’s conference?

I am personally not a big fan of hybrid; I believe it is somehow the worst of both worlds from a cost perspective and from an attendees’ experience point of view. A lot of the delegates who attend the conference do so to network and meet in person, so they might be disappointed if some of their peers attend only virtually. Similarly, if we had opted for a hybrid format, those attending virtually would not get the full experience of the conference. For us at DIRK, there was no doubt that the conference needed to be in person-only to allow attendees to have the best possible experience.  

What were the hottest themes affecting the IR community addressed at the conference?

The strapline of our conference this year was ‘Disrupting times’. If I had to choose two overarching themes that are major disruptors to the IR function today, those would be ESG and digitization. ESG reporting is the main area of interest for IROs in Germany and other attendees. The ways in which collection of ESG-related data – both financial and non-financial – has changed over the past 10 years is a major area of concern for today’s IROs. It’s a bit of a balancing act having to manage investors’ and analysts’ expectations in today’s ESG landscape. That’s why ESG data collection and reporting were widely discussed at the event.

When it comes to digitization, of course artificial intelligence (AI) has been a major disruptor in recent months. German IROs are lagging in the use and implementation of AI tools. At the conference we held some workshops that addressed adoption of new technological tools and looked at issues such as cyber-security. Cyber-attacks are also top of mind for companies and IROs alike, and we delved into how to manage risks. In Germany, the IR community is trying to get up to speed with all new developments and incorporate those into programs and agendas to be able to meet investors’ expectations.

How ready are German companies for the new standards – IFRS S1 and IFRS S2 – from the International Sustainability Standards Board?

We conducted a poll at the event and the results showed that most companies are not so ready. Nobody is really prepared: this is a time when companies are gathering all the information, looking at all the different regulatory frameworks out there and trying to figure out what reporting standards to adopt and benchmark themselves against.

What would you say are three lessons for IROs that emerged from this year’s conference?

Firstly, we live in disruptive times, and you need to be prepared for unexpected events and big disruptions. Secondly, be prepared to change the way you are working and the skills you and your team need to perform the function today. It’s always been like this: big changes, like AI, occur periodically and we need to adapt. It’s important to remember that in the past we would experience a deep change every 20 years – now the pace at which those changes occur is much faster. Lastly, be open-minded and stay calm. Don’t be afraid of disruption but instead try to turn it into something good.