What makes good IR, according to TD Bank’s former CFO

Jan 14, 2019
In this Q&A, Colleen Johnston, one of the judges for this year’s IR Magazine Awards – Canada, shares her thoughts on what makes an effective IR program

TD Bank is no stranger to the IR Magazine Awards – Canada, having picked up 41 awards since 1999. There are many talented individuals who have contributed to TD Bank’s success over this period, including Colleen Johnston, who will serve as one of the judges for this year’s IR Magazine Awards – Canada.

Johnston retired from TD Bank last year after 14 years with the firm, 10 of those as chief financial officer (between 2005 and 2015). In October 2018 she was appointed to the WestJet board of directors.

For the second year, IR Magazine is inviting nominations in several categories to supplement the traditionally researched award categories. This year, the awards-by-nomination categories are:

  • Best ESG reporting
  • Best IR during a corporate transaction
  • Best use of technology & social media for IR
  • Rising star

In this interview, Johnston talks about what makes a great IR program and what she’ll be looking out for as a judge of the Canada Awards.

What makes an effective IR program, in your opinion?

I was CFO from 2005 to 2015 and we developed a terrific IR program during that time. Working with Edmund Clark [TD Bank’s CEO in 2005], we decided we wanted to make IR a competitive advantage for the bank. That meant three things to us: accessibility, responsiveness and value-add to the investor and analyst community.

IR teams are typically small and there’s only so much they can do with their own resources, so it’s also about getting your executives out. The culture at the bank was to drop everything if an investor query came in.

There are a lot of different views on the role of IR. Some people say companies should just deliver the results and the rest will take care of itself. But life has its ups and down, and making sure your investors and analysts understand your strategy and long-term goals will give you the benefit of the doubt during those ups and downs. That makes the investment of time worth it.

When you were CFO at TD Bank, what types of skills did you look for in an IR department leader?

The people I enjoyed working with were energetic, smart, great at relationship-building and had great business acumen. It’s helpful to have financial acumen. I don’t think you need to fill an IR team entirely with finance people, but you need people who are competent with the numbers. You don’t want people who always have to go and ask someone else.

I felt strongly that when the numbers came out and when financial information was released, the front-line people in IR needed to understand the facts very well and weren’t just facilitators.

What was your involvement in investor relations while you were CFO?

The day we released our results I would spend all morning on the phone speaking directly to our analysts; at the time there were 17 analysts covering us. We talked about the results. I felt that it was important to be transparent and open about what was good and not so good. Of course, you have to find the right balance – you don’t want to overemphasize the negatives, but you have to listen with neutrality so you can understand how the market views you.

Investor relations is a long game and you have to look at it that way. For me it was about trust and simplifying complex ideas. It isn’t about more disclosure – it’s about better disclosure. For example, several years ago in Canada we moved to IFRS reporting. In our financial statements we have to have about 16 pages of notes talking about the transition because the technical rules require companies to do that. I wanted to find out what our investors most wanted to know about the change, and there were about five questions they were clearly most concerned about. We summarized those five questions in one slide in our IR deck, providing succinct answers. 

One of the categories open to nominations this year is best ESG disclosure. How have you seen this conversation evolve during your career?

It’s new and important. What will be essential is getting a degree of standardization so you can create an element of comparability between companies. There are more and more investors interested in ESG and it’s something that’s important for society, so getting the disclosures right to create meaning for the end-users will be important.

 

This year the IR Magazine Awards – Canada will be held on April 3 at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. Nominations for the four awards-by-nomination categories are open until January 18 and can be submitted here.

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